The first day of school was the beginning of the end for crossing guard Rita Von Sas.
In 30 days, the woman who has helped Benfield Elementary School children cross Benfield Road and Lynwood Drive in Severna Park for 30 years will retire.
"I feel very sad," Von Sas, 64, said yesterday. "It's sad to know that I'm not going to be able to see as much of the kids as I do now."
The children and their parents feel the same way about their beloved crossing guard.
"She's so good with the kids, and everybody loves her," said Ana Garabedian, who walked her daughter Angela to school. "We're going to miss her."
"She's really nice," said Angela, a second-grader.
Although the part-time hairdresser spends no more than 90 minutes a day as a crossing guard, the stress can get to her, she said.
"When I get nervous and I think cars aren't going to stop, I chew on my whistle," she said, picking a piece of the plastic instrument off her tongue.
Von Sas became a crossing guard after she and her family moved to Severna Park in 1966 to help her son, Paul, become more comfortable going to school.
"He was the new kid on the block, but he made lots of friends after that," she said.
Paul graduated long ago, but she has continued to shepherd the children across Benfield, once a two-lane road without a traffic light, but now a paved, three-lane road where a signal was installed two years ago, Von Sas said.
Von Sas has outlasted 10 bosses and estimates that she has been a crossing guard for more than 500 pupils.
Dotty Holoubek remembers when Von Sas was her crossing guard. Now, Holoubek's first-grade daughter Gretchen is getting to know Von Sas.
"The thing that I remember was that if you got here early and it was raining, she'd let you sit in her car," Holoubek, 36, said. "She was just so nice."
The one thing that hasn't changed is Von Sas' love for the children. She said she knits mini-stockings every Christmas and fills them with candy canes for all of the students at her crosswalk. The children return the favor by giving her school pictures or flowers.
Von Sas, who never has taken sick leave, said she has always abided by one rule when it comes to dealing with all children.
"You have to be firm with them," she said. "Kind but firm."
That's why it's hard for many students and parents to accept the idea Von Sas is leaving.
"It's pretty comforting to know that she's out here every single day," said Ed Turner, who accompanied his wife, Linda, and his daughters, Lindsay and Mallory. "Even when it's raining, she'll stay out here until 9 [a.m.]."
Second-grader Erika Byrd said, "I think she's very nice because she helps children out when they walk across the street. I'll miss her."
Pub Date: 8/27/96