The last day of school at McKinley Elementary is not just the beginning of summer—it's also the last day of work for Howard Johnson. Today, after 16 years of helping schoolchildren and pedestrians cross the street safely for the San Francisco Unified School District, "the best-dressed crossing guard in town" is set to hang up his stop sign.
Johnson has spent the past four years as the crossing guard for McKinley Elementary School, at 14th and Castro. Before that, he worked for 12 years as the crossing guard at Rosa Parks Elementary School in the Western Addition.
We interviewed Johnson back in 2014, and he told us all about his past as a male model, Korean War veteran and doorman. He's also a longtime foster parent. At the time, he wasn't anxious to retire: "I don’t wanna give it up. I enjoy myself here. I have fun with the people and they’re nice to me and I get a chance to talk to them, joke with them and they talk and joke with me."
But these days, Johnson says, he needs to care for his wife as she attends to some medical issues. After that, he plans to take it easy and start bowling more often; he currently bowls two nights a week at Classic Bowl in Daly City.
"This is my third retirement!" he told us. "I spent 37 years working for the government and 12 years working at hotels before becoming a crossing guard." But now that he's 85 years old, "it's time for me to slow down," he said.
Yesterday, Johnson was honored by the school administration in a special morning ceremony. Every class at McKinley gave him a card, and the school gave him a little going-away gift.
Andrew Courtney, who owns Courtney Produce across the street, told us that Johnson was treated to a special surprise. At each morning assembly, the children are usually led in a cheer by Principal Edith Jordan-McCormick, who asks them, "What do you come to school for?" They usually shout the response "To learn!" but yesterday, they honored Johnson with a special chant spelling out "Howard."
He'll be missed by the faculty, too. "Howard's the kind of guy that will make you late to work because you just want to hang out and yuck it up with him," said fourth-grade teacher Zachary Schreib.
Without Johnson, "this corner is going to be a lot less stylish," said Courtney. "[His replacement] is gonna have really big shoes to fill."
McKinley Elementary will be assigned a new crossing guard next school year, though secretary Jennifer Hancock doesn't know who will take over the job. "Howard's going to be so missed," she said.
We asked Johnson if he had any advice for the new crossing guard. His response: "Be nice, smile, talk to people, and most importantly, make sure the kids get across the street safely." That's advice Johnson can stand by: in his 16 years as a crossing guard, he's had zero accidents.
Johnson will still be spotted around McKinley as he picks up and drops off his daughter, who's finishing up kindergarten this year and will begin first grade in the fall. In the rest of his time, he said, "I'll be enjoying everything!"