Crossing guard Mary Filippi.

Crossing guard Mary Filippi. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Throughout the school year, hundreds of crossing guards on Long Island arrive at their intersections each morning and stand their posts.

They are often the first to greet students on their way to school, and the last person they say goodbye to once the day is done. They keep pedestrians safe during parades and public events, sometimes working as many as seven days a week, said county police officials, who oversee the Island’s guards.

Suffolk County Police Assistant Deputy Commissioner James Watson said that in his 29 years of service, he has known crossing guards to be some of the most dedicated people, who truly care about their communities.

“The guards will be there first thing in the morning, rain, shine, snow, sleet,” he said.

There are drawbacks, of course. In addition to the unpredictable weather conditions, crossing guards must at times contend with reckless or inattentive drivers. But despite the dangers, Watson said crossing guards are “passionate and proud of their job.”

“They have a very strong desire to help within their community,” he said.

With the school year coming to a close for students across the Island, Newsday spoke to two longtime crossing guards — one from Nassau and one from Suffolk — about how they got started in the job and what keeps them coming back year after year.

Mary Filippi has been at her post for nearly four...

Mary Filippi has been at her post for nearly four decades. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

MARY FILIPPI

OCEAN AND CENTRE AVENUES, EAST ROCKAWAY

Mary Filippi, also known as “Ms. Mary,” has been a Nassau County crossing guard for nearly 38 years.

“I can’t imagine staying home,” she said.

Filippi, 66, of South Valley Stream, said she has worked for so long that she regularly gets recognized by adults she crossed as children — or as she calls them, her “cross-children.” She now guards many of their children as a proud “grandguard,” she said.

“All of a sudden you see them as adults and you’re amazed,” she said.

In her first year on the job, Filippi said she worked throughout Nassau County as a rotating guard. She then worked 30 years at Peninsula Boulevard and Mill Road in Hewlett, followed by three years at the intersection of Broadway and Stevenson Road, also in Hewlett.

Her current “office” is situated near Centre Avenue Elementary and East Rockaway High School, which means she encounters students of all ages.

“I really enjoy the kids. They always have something to say,” she said. “I would ask them about school, and they would tell me about sports and what they were trying out for. They tell me about certain teachers or grades. They tell me what they did over the weekend.”

Whether they are small and full of questions or older and too cool for the crossing guard, Filippi said she makes a point to acknowledge every student and make them feel seen.

Earlier this month, when students wore green shirts to participate in outdoor activities, Filippi wore green earrings to match.

She said she’s been hit by cars twice while on the job, suffering bruised knees. She wouldn’t trade the job for anything, though.

“We’ve had some good times and bad times, but overall, the kids have been great,” she said.

Filippi said she became a crossing guard to help raise money to buy a house. Her husband, Greg Filippi, worked nights as a bus driver in Jamaica, Queens. Their daughter, Diana, was 5 at the time and their son, Joseph, was 3, so parenting and household responsibilities were evenly split.

Her husband would take the children to and from school and chaperone field trips during the day while Filippi would do household chores and errands in between shifts, she recalled.

“My children have great memories of being with their father when they’re young, because he was home,” Filippi said.

The schedule also allowed her to have time for leadership positions within the crossing guard union, where she was a representative for more than 25 years. She also worked as a recording secretary for the union and was vice president for two terms, she said.

Most of her life had been centered around children, so the job was a perfect fit, she noted. Growing up in Valley Stream, Filippi was the eldest daughter of five children, including one adopted child, as well as several foster children her parents took in. As a teenager, she said, she babysat and gave children’s swimming lessons as a lifeguard.

“I’ve been changing diapers and taking care of babies since I was 7 years old,” she said.

Filippi has been on the job for so long that she said she’s taught guards who have since retired.

Her husband died on Christmas Day last year. Her mother died 10 days later, she said. And her children have since moved out and have families of their own.

For the first time, Filippi said she is learning to live alone and for herself. She continues working as a crossing guard because she said it gives her true joy and she loves connecting with others.

“I get up every morning and I go to a job I love,” Filippi said. “So how could I possibly be sad?”

Ennio Ligorio.

Ennio Ligorio. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

ENNIO SALVATORE LIGORIO

MARION STREET AND LAKELAND AVENUE, SAYVILLE

When Ennio Salvatore Ligorio’s daughter, Sylvia, said she was attending a crossing guard orientation in 2005, he thought he’d tag along.

His daughter wound up turning down the job. But Ligorio, who had retired a few years earlier, left with a new career.

“It wasn’t enough [money] for her. So I took the job,” he said. “I just wanted to continue to work.”

When he started, Ligorio said, he “subbed all over” Suffolk County before being assigned his permanent location in 2010.

Now 84, Ligorio is Suffolk’s oldest crossing guard, according to county police.

What keeps him going, he said, is the mental stimulation of getting out of his house and meeting new people.

“This way, I keep my mind,” he said. “It’s a nice job for people to keep themselves busy.”

Ligorio at his post in Sayville.

Ligorio at his post in Sayville. Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

Before retiring in 1999, Ligorio said, he had several careers, including as a salesman and custodian for the Sayville school district. He said he also worked in the accounting department of AMF Bowling.

Working as a crossing guard has been a completely different yet meaningful experience, he said.

Instead of four walls in a stuffy building, his corner has trees, cars and is open to the elements. And instead of a lengthy commute, Ligorio simply walks one block from his George Street home, where he’s lived since 1972.

In addition to being near home, he believes his post is fitting, since both of his children attended district schools and his late wife was a teacher in the district, he said.

After his first shift ends in the morning, Ligorio heads home for a cup of coffee and breakfast. He’ll either rest or run errands until the afternoon, when he returns for his second shift. When it’s over, he walks home, where he reads his Bible and prepares for the next day.

Ligorio said that each day he gets a chance to help students on their way to school, as well as families and adults just enjoying a stroll. He recalled once helping a dog cross the street in Patchogue.

“It’s an important job,” he said.

And while Ligorio said he doesn’t remember every name, most walkers are now so familiar that he knows what time they will cross in the morning or afternoon.

Ligorio said the cold doesn’t bother him, as he stays active by walking. Neighbors also have given him handwarming packets. “I just put on two, three scarves,” he said.

The spring and summer are more concerning, so he carries a water bottle to avoid dehydration.

Ligorio said he plans to retire in about three years. As a Christian, he said he has relied on the tenets of his religion as he performs his duties.

“In my faith, you are supposed to love everybody,” he said.

HOW TO BECOME A CROSSING GUARD

Both Nassau and Suffolk counties are actively hiring crossing guards, with Suffolk in particular looking to fill 83 open positions.

As of July 1, Suffolk’s hourly rate for substitute guards will be $20, and $19.11 for permanent positions. The guards work part time but receive the same medical, vision and dental benefits as full-time Suffolk County employees. Guards receive two days of training at the Suffolk County Police Academy in Brentwood and on the street with an experienced guard.

Nassau’s starting salary for a crossing guard is $25 per hour, and guards can be required to work up to 17 hours per week. They do not receive medical benefits.

Applicants in both counties have to pass a criminal-background check, including fingerprinting; an interview with an investigator; and medical and psychological examinations.

For application information, visit pdcn.org/292/PD-Crossing-Guard to become a Nassau guard, or bit.ly/45ymM8M for Suffolk.

 — Maureen Mullarkey

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