On April 27, the community of Ponderosa Elementary School in Sunnyvale said a tearful goodbye to 83-year-old crossing guard William Ricks. Mr. Bill, as he was known to students, died in early April just hours after he had finished a shift doing what he loved.
“[His wife] told me, ‘He didn’t look good that day and I wanted to go tell him he couldn’t go to work, but I knew he wouldn’t listen to me because he had to go to work every day. He just loved being there. He wouldn’t listen to it anyway,’” recalled Ponderosa Elementary School Principal Alissa Meltzer.
The students and staff at Ponderosa Elementary School were understandably shocked when Mr. Bill wasn’t at work the next day. Principal Meltzer and the school district quickly worked together to bring in grief counselors for the students.
“We had 10-plus grief counselors on site within an hour and a half that day and they went around to the primary grades,” said Principal Meltzer. “They went into the classrooms while the teachers shared the news with the kids and the kids made cards for Mrs. Blair, his wife.”
Parents also found a way to say thank you. One parent made a sign that said, “Who touched our lives with a simple high-five,” and the students placed handprints on the sign. The principal says Mrs. Blair planned to put the banner up at the funeral and also invited a small group of students to sing a song for Mr. Bill.
“Their hearts had been touched,” said Principal Meltzer. “So many parents stopped and said he’s just going to be so missed. He was just a shining smile every single morning and he was so welcoming.”
Mr. Bill’s colleagues at the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety (DPS) were also, understandably, saddened by the loss.
“Mr. Bill is remembered fondly by everyone that had the pleasure of meeting him; he has left lasting impressions on all of us here at Public Safety, from the stop sign high-fives to the warm morning greetings,” said Norma O’Connell, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator at Sunnyvale DPS. “He was more than a crossing guard, he was a friend and a co-worker. Mr. Bill never fell shy of smiley and bubbly, he had a gift of making everyone smile and he will be sorely missed. We hope that his family and loved ones find solace in this time of grief.”
Principal Meltzer says right now the parents and staff are focused on supporting Mr. Bill’s widow, but she anticipates the school will build a memorial or dedicate something to the late crossing guard in the future.
Until then, Mr. Bill will always be remembered fondly by parents, teachers and students for the signature high-five he did with his stop sign.
“It’s actually sort of funny because one of the other crossing guards came to me and complained once,” said Principal Meltzer. “She’s like, ‘These kids are hitting my stop sign every day on the way to school.’ I said, ‘Yeah. I know. That’s what Mr. Bill does when he’s here.’ It was a real thing.”