Every morning before school, Pat Hopkins watches the sunrise. The wood ducks glide through the pond in front of Belle Terre Elementary School as she chats with her friend and fellow crossing guard, Julio Jurjo.
“We enjoy the quietness before the kids come on their bikes and their wiggly boards,” Hopkins said in the sparkling sunlight after school on Friday, March 22. It was the end of the week, and the kids were boisterous as they poured out of school and crossed to the east side of Belle Terre Parkway.
But for Hopkins, the day was “kind of scary.” After following the same routine five days per week for eight years, at 62, she qualifies for benefits through her husband’s career with a Baltimore railroad company, and she will now retire.
She also deserves a break. She has had a yearly mammogram since 2000, and last August, she learned she had breast cancer.
“I had a lumpectomy in September,” she said. Her hair danced in her face in the wind as we talked on the sidewalk next to the white basket on her trademark three-wheel bicycle.
“I had 38 radiation treatments,” she said. She only missed a handful of hours of work, though, until a cough sidelined her for a couple of weeks. “I kept pushing. I didn’t want to give in,” she said.
And so, while Hopkins will miss seeing the elation on the faces of fourth-graders who are competing in the Tropicana Speech Contest, and while she’ll miss the laughter of students and the occasional cards from parents (“You are a blessing to the Palm Coast community,” one recent card said), she is looking forward to having time to work on some remodeling projects.
“What I want to do is get my house in order,” she said. “I love throwing things out.”
She also wants to get back to playing her piano, which has been in her home since the 1980s. She wants to do a bit of traveling, and maybe go see the Smoky Mountains and learn to play her banjo.
Her former partner on the crosswalk was Walter Reamer, who retired last June, recently sent her an email with a picture of himself traveling, as well. The photo appeared in the newspaper in Lynchburg, Va. The headline next to his photo: “Walter Reamer shovels snow.”
And so, just as Reamer moved on and left Hopkins as the veteran, her retirement leaves Jurjo, aka “Grandpa,” in charge. Before I left the crosswalk area, he pulled me aside to show me the sunrise photos he has taken while waiting for the children to arrive for school each day.
Of Hopkins, he said, “She taught me to work here. I'm sorry to see her go.”
As I got in the car to leave, I saw, from across the four lanes, a mother and two children stop at Hopkins’ bicycle and give her flowers and a card.
From everyone in the Belle Terre Elementary community, happy retirement, Pat. Be healthy and safe!