OAKLEAF – It was unseasonable cold, and the wind made it even more uncomfortable when Mel Garrett backed his car into a power station driveway last week on Cheswick Oak Avenue.
But children walking and riding bikes home from Argyle Elementary still got a warm welcome from a 92-year-old World War II veteran as they crossed the busy crosswalk at Spencer Plantation Boulevard.
“I tell every one of them ‘Have a good day’ when they go to school and ‘Have a good evening’ when they go home,” Garrett said. “I always greet them with a hello.”
The children are just as fond of him. Students prepared dozens of handwritten birthday cards for his 92nd birthday earlier this month. Other children who ride home from school often roll down their windows and wave.
“You get to know all of them,” Garrett said. “It puts a smile on my face.”
Garrett enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17. He was sent to Japan as part of the occupation force at the end of World War II. He worked security most of his life before joining his brother-in-law, who retired on Fleming Island, in Clay County.
But he wasn’t ready to quit.
“I can’t just sit there and watch television,” he said. “You should be doing something that keeps your mind and your body active. That feeds your energy. I’ve always had something to do. This was something else other than sitting at home.”
Garrett has worked for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for seven years. His post includes one of the busiest roadways in the Oakleaf area, and traffic soon will double when construction to extend Cheswick Road is completed.
Garrett isn’t sure how many more years he will blow his whistle, stroll into traffic and help children safely cross the road – all for $22.26 a day. But one thing is for sure: he’s going to stay busy.
“Standing out here in the heat isn’t something isn’t a good choice for a 92-year-old,” he said. “But it gives me a couple hours a day. And I get weekends off. I believe if you keep your brain and your muscles strong, you can do anything. There are times when I think maybe it’s time for someone else to do this job, then I think as long as I’m healthy, why not? Right now, I’m taking it one year at a time.”
Garrett said he eventually wants to do volunteer work with his wife.
“I like to do a lot of things,” he said. “Slowing down isn’t one of them.”