Ensley, 88, has been a sterling example of how a crossing guard can make a difference in the lives and hearts of children, particularly at Blythe-Bower Elementary. But stability on her feet is no longer one of her strongest assets, according to the Murphy, N.C., native.
“I could make it all right every morning,” Ensley said. “But in the evenings when they turned the children out there was a big loop at the school where I had to be between two lines of cars. I was afraid I’d fall and get run over.
“I called the chief (Wes Snyder) and told him that I was going to hang it up. He talked to me a while and said, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ I said, ‘No, it’s not what I want to do, but it’s what I’ve got to do.’”
Ensley, who began her career as a crossing guard in the 1960s, said, “At that time it was different. There weren’t any supervisors or uniforms. My pay was $40 a month and we got that on the last Friday of each month.”
She said the Cleveland City Police Department worked to improve the standards and pay of the local crossing guards and she is grateful to this day.
“In two years I may have gotten a 3 or 4 cents raise. But by the time I retired, I was making $337 every two weeks.”
Her husband, Albert, died in 2005, after working 29 years for Magic Chef (now Whirlpool).
“He died from a blood clot to his brain,” Ensley said. “We had two girls and one boy. Our oldest daughter, Patricia, died in 2003, from cancer on the brain. She was in charge of all the off shore plants for American Uniform. She loved her job.
“My other daughter, Donna Ingle, and our son Richard live in Cleveland. I’m very proud of them.”
Ensley admits it was her love for children that motivated her to become a crossing guard.
“I could see little children going to school without a crossing guard and I felt sorry for them,” Ensley said. “I thought I could help them. When I got over there, every morning I had to give them a hug. I thought they might not have had a hug before they left home.”
According to Ensley, she was the second crossing guard at Blythe Elementary after the first female crossing guard quit to go back to school.”
One fond memory Ensley shared was of a family with five children who suffered a tragedy.
“Their mother got killed in a car accident,” Ensley said. “I felt so sorry for those kids I could hardly stand it. The little baby was 2 years old. She was was in a body cast. I kept her every day until she got out of that body cast. I would take her with me to the corner of the school every evening and lay her on a blanket. She would lay there and watch the children come out of school.”
Ensley said the child, now an adult, was at her retirement party, with her sisters.
“It just tickled me to death,” she said, smiling. “She’s a beautiful lady. I told her I was proud of her and if she ever needed me to let me know. I get a lot of joy out of helping people.
“I’ve always tried to live right,” Ensley said. “I’m not going to say I did right all the time. We all sin and come short, but I think it’s the love of God that helped me through the years.”
Ensley, who came to Cleveland in 1953, started as a crossing guard in 1965. The way she embraced Cleveland’s children, regardless of color, at the end of segregation in 1968 and afterward, gave testimony to her love of people and kind heart.
“They were all sweet to me. They would come by and hug me and I would hug them,” Ensley said. “We should all be colorblind when it comes to people, especially children. I would hug the black kids and love them like I did all the others.”
Ensley’s mind took her back to her recent retirement party. She smiled.
“You should have seen the little ones hugging me that Friday night,” she said. “They wrote me letters. In one of them, the child wrote, ‘I am so, so sorry you are too old to work.” Ensley started laughing.
During her laughter, the woman who made children feel safe, valued and loved, added, “I wouldn’t have quit if I could help it.”