Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 23, 2013

Ed Hungness: Looking back on patrol boy days

Local columnist

---- — In the fall of 1949, I went to school for the first time. My mother took me by the hand, led me to the kindergarten teacher and left me there.

It was an exciting day for me and my first time away from home. The elementary school was located a short block away from our house. I was fortunate to live so close to the school and came home for lunch every day. Like most of my classmates, we walked to and from school no matter what the weather conditions and the only danger we faced was crossing the street. Our safety was ensured by the watchful eye of a fifth- or sixth-grader who acted as a “patrol boy.”

Patrol Boys were recruited from the fifth-grade class and were required to be trained in crossing-guard duties and safety before going on active duty during their sixth-grade year. Patrol Boy training included standing guard with an experienced sixth-grader who taught the newbie all the nuances of a full-fledged Patrol Boy. When school ended for the summer, the trainee received his Patrol Boy Belt and Badge which he was allowed to take home.

As little kids, we looked up to the Patrol Boys. They were the big guys and we were instructed by our teachers to always obey them. To a kindergartener or first-grader, a sixth-grader seemed to be almost an adult. Any student who didn’t obey Patrol Boy orders was pulled out of class and given a scolding by the school principal. The disciplinary action also included a note to his or her parents, which usually was worse than the scolding. Parents never liked getting notes from their child’s teacher.

There was a Patrol Boy stationed at every corner around the school property. He stood on the edge of the curb with both hands extended out from his sides, which required students to line up behind him and await his permission to cross the street. His responsibility was to look in all directions and allow only the students under his guard to cross when no vehicles were approaching the intersection. When all was clear, he would walk to the middle of the street and allow the children waiting at the curb to cross.

I always thought the Patrol Boy cut a dashing figure, proudly wearing that white Sam Browne-style belt which ran diagonally across his chest. I knew that this was what I wanted to do when I became a grown-up sixth-grader.

One of the perks of being a Patrol Boy (besides the belt) was the freedom to leave class early and come in late. They were granted this privilege in order to get to and from their assigned post before the other children arrived. As a Patrol Boy, you could shave as much as 20 minutes off your school day. Now that was a good deal. The only downside was standing at your post during bad weather.

The School Safety Patrol program was organized in 1920 by the American Automobile Association and spread across the United States. encompassing 76 percent of local communities. AAA clubs sponsored safety patrol programs in 50,000 elementary schools and provided training materials, badges, and the coveted Patrol Boy belt. Former safety patrol members included U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Michigan Governor William Milliken, Baseball Hall of Fame member Joe Garagiola, Chrysler Board Chairman Lee Iacocca, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and, of course, me.

Eventually I became a sixth-grader. As one of the big kids, I fulfilled my dream of wearing the Patrol Boy belt and helping the little kids safely cross the street. It was a short career, however, because the next year I found myself at the bottom of the food chain, a lowly seventh-grader in middle school where experienced Patrol Boys were no longer in demand. Downsized at the age of 13.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed’s retirement. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633.