COLUMBIA — Twice a day, Cedar Albert can be seen in her electric green vest and matching hat, waving at nearly every car that passes Eugene Field Elementary on Range Line Street. Though the gesture is in friendliness, there is more to it than common courtesy.
Albert is on a mission to keep children safe. The crossing guard, one of 11 employed in Columbia during summer school, is determined to keep cars within the 20 mph speed limit during school hours, and she has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Crossing guards are employed by the Columbia Police Department's community youth services unit. They are paid $175 every two weeks.
Albert grew up in Columbia and graduated from Hickman High School. She continued her education at MU and graduated in 1964. Upon graduation, she moved to St. Louis to teach junior high science. She then became a computer programmer and continued that line of work until 1994, when she returned to Columbia to "semi-retire."
Albert felt compelled to return to the area because of its uniqueness.
"With the university and colleges there's lots and lots of things going on, so this town has more influences than most places for its size," she said. "You can go see about anything you would see in L.A."
Albert found the crossing guard position when the previous guard informed her that she was moving to Oklahoma.
"She asked if I would be interested in taking over," Albert said. "I applied the next day and got the job."
There was an element of convenience in her decision to apply, as the crosswalk to the school is directly in front of Albert's home, where she spends much of her free time gardening and decorating her vibrant front porch.
Albert says that driving speeds have improved since she first took the position.
"When I first started, drivers were whipping through here like it was a race track," she said. "The other guard would sometimes lose her temper over fast drivers. I tried that too, but I don't like getting out of temper so I started waving at everyone."
Albert does motion at people to slow down, though, and she isn't afraid to let people know she means business. She said that she is getting recognized in Columbia because of her job. "I would go to the hardware store and people would say 'Oh, you're the slow-down lady!"
Melissa Baxter has been living beside the animated crossing guard for four years. People are very aware of Albert's presence in the neighborhood, she said.
"When I tell people where I live, they say, 'Oh that's by the Field School with the crossing guard,'" Baxter said.
Baxter called Albert a "strong force" in the neighborhood because of her generosity. She donates flowers to her neighbors to help beautify the neighborhood.
"She is generous with the children and works to make this a beautiful and safe place for them," Baxter said. "It is actually very pleasurable sitting on the porch and watching her work. That is the thing. She is working; she's not just sitting there. She is doing her job."
Albert has come up with a method, using her demeanor and her words, that she finds works best to keep drivers from speeding.
"The sweeter I talk, the less I talk, it has become a package and it helps," she said. "Most days people will slow down, and more apologize than not."
But now and then there are drivers who absolutely refuse to slow down. One of the worst drivers, according to Albert, refused to slow down and ignored her stop sign.
"She just sailed on by and gave me the finger as she went by!" Albert said.
To deal with situations with speedy or angry drivers, Albert says, "You just have to laugh." Albert does not discount herself, though, from the reckless driving she witnesses while on the job.
"I have to fully admit, I'm just as bad as they are. It is something you have to work on. We all live on the same planet," she said. "We are all here to get some place and keep the kids safe at the same time."
She feels that most people would agree that having a ticket hurts, but that hurting a child is what would really get them.
Albert has a lot of dedication for protecting children, though she has none of her own.
"I was the oldest of seven children. I had lots of kids when I was a kid!" she said with a hearty, recognizable laugh.
Fortunately, Albert says that she has never witnessed a child harmed, or being close to harmed by a vehicle.
She has no plans of quitting her crossing guard job, working both the regular and summer sessions. She finds that the job keeps her in good spirits.
"Twice a day I get to put on my clown outfit and wave at everyone," she said. "At first you feel like a fool, but it's good for your spirit. After a few months you kind of get an idea that you could be friends with anybody."