In August when Clearwater students return to school, a familiar face at the intersection of Palmetto Street and Highland Avenue won't be there for the first time in almost two decades.
Crossing guard Harry Aldrich, a tall, lean sentry at the same intersection for 17 years, is retiring today, the last day of school. He is 83.
Every school day he suited up in a blue-collared shirt, khaki shorts and a star-shaped belt buckle that belonged to his brother-in-law, former Pinellas County Sheriff Don Genung.
As he escorted them across the street, Aldrich always said "good morning" or a simple "hello" to the elementary and middle school students from Clearwater Fundamental Middle, Clearwater Intermediate School and Sandy Lane Elementary.
The children know him as "Harry the Crossing Guard." They say he's kind and helpful.
"He's the nicest person that I ever met," said Allayah Fields, 10. "He helps people go across the street because there's a lot of traffic here."
"He's never grumpy," said Tyrell Nichols, 14.
Harry the Crossing Guard keeps an air pump in his trunk so he can pump up flat bicycle tires for young bike riders. He's even been known to take a broken bike home and fix it while the child is at school.
That sort of kindness and helpfulness has been a hallmark of both of Aldrich's careers. He ran a TV repair shop for 24 years, retiring in 1990, but he still repairs his neighbors' TVs just to help out.
Aldrich grew up on a dairy farm in McDonough, N.Y., the town where he met the love of his life, Daretta, or June as she prefers to be called. Aldrich was 19. June was 16.
June fell ill with rheumatoid fever and moved to Florida for the warmer climate. For two years they sent letters to each other, and she visited him in New York in the summertime.
But by August 1950, Aldrich couldn't take it anymore. He moved to Florida, too, and the couple got married that November. Within three months, Aldrich was drafted. He was stationed in Germany during the Korean War and returned home in December 1952.
Her husband has always been a committed man, June said, rarely missing a day of work.
"I never like to call off," he said, even on rainy days, which are not his favorites.
Harry's granddaughter Kristin Vernon said she remembers the day when her "Papaw," as all 12 grandchildren call him, asked about becoming a crossing guard.
When she was a child, he walked her to school every morning, handing her off to a crossing guard when they reached the last intersection. She remembers he asked the crossing guard one day about getting a crossing guard job himself. He liked to stay busy.
"I'm used to always doing something," he said. "I just enjoy it — the work and being around younger people helps me forget my age."
Aldrich began work as a crossing guard in 1993 but was posted at other crossings until 1995, when he was assigned to the Palmetto-Highland intersection. He was named Crossing Guard of the Year for 2007-2008. Clearwater schools crossing guard coordinator Manny Diaz said Aldrich was chosen because he stood out.
"He is always on time and never late. No complaints — not since I've been here," Diaz said. "He's always at his post."
He said Aldrich will be honored with a plaque today.
"He always did his job. He took his job seriously," Diaz said. "He enjoyed working with the kids, like most of the crossing guards."
Aldrich said he's retiring because he and June want to visit their children and do some traveling. They want to see New York again.
But these last days of school have been bittersweet.
Aldrich is looking forward to retirement, "but when school starts, I'll be wondering if I should have retired," he said. "I'll miss the kids."
Diedra Rodriguez can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or email@example.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.