They stand in the sun, in the rain, in the cold, on their good days and bad days, these public servants go to work every school day. They make sure that the children of Clay County can safely make it to their destination.
However, crossing guards often go unnoticed, except for when they stop the traffic.
John Shatto is one of those individuals, but it’s very unlikely that he goes unnoticed. So far, he’s worked a total of 16 years with the Clay County Sheriffs Office as a crossing guard. In that time, he’s made a name for himself among students, parents, drivers and co-workers alike.
“He’s a square guy, that does his job, and the kids love him,” said fellow crossing guard Dan Finch.
You can find Shatto at the corner of Moody Road and Doctors Lake Drive, next to the train tracks. He always has Alabama football gear on display, whether he’s wearing it or driving around with it, he’s even known as “Alabama John” by some.
Prior to becoming a crossing guard, Shatto gave over 21 years of service to the United States Navy. He was a father of two, and was married for a number of years to his first wife, who inspired him to become one as well, post retirement.
“When I retired from the base, my wife said that I couldn’t just sit around the house, so I started doing this,” Shatto said. “It’s a good job, it keeps me up and going.”
When Shatto’s first wife passed away, he still continued his crossing guard duties. Five years ago he remarried, after meeting a woman on the Christian Mingle dating website.
“I dated a couple of other girls on that website, but they didn’t work out,” Shatto said.
Fortunately for those who cross his path, the love he spreads extends to more than just his significant other. Every school day, from about 7:20 a.m. until 8:20 a.m. motorists can see him blowing kisses to the ladies that pass by him and saluting the gentlemen as well. There’s a specific reason that he does this.
“It draws attention to me as a crossing guard, so they slow down some,” Shatto said. “Of course a lot of them slow down and a lot of them go through the red light, which is dangerous.”
He feels this way, because he cares for the ones who get the most of his affection – the students.
“I just enjoy being around kids, I only had two of my own and they’re all grown,” Shatto said. “It’s a blessing to me, you get to talk to them about their lives, even at this age they’re starting to talk about college and it makes me feel so good.”
Over the years, Shatto has bought “his children” gifts and dressed up for them on holidays. Going above and beyond the duties of a crossing guard is something he prides himself on and the children appreciate it too.
“He’s really nice,” said Mallory Finch, 11, a student at Montclair Elementary School.
“He’s really fun, he can talk to you, and be your friend,” said Layla Davis, 9, who also attends Montclair.
Those sentiments extend to the parents and community as well. Especially Shaun Wimberley, a paramedic at Orange Park Medical Center, who crosses the road with his son every day, but he knows Shatto from more than school mornings.
“I have a-fib, my heart is messed up. I went into the hospital, and he was there that morning,” Shatto said. “He takes good care of anybody that comes through the emergency room.”
“I see a lot of community members come through, I’ve seen John a few times, I try to give him a little extra-special treatment for all the good that he does out here for these kids,” Wimberly said.
Wimberly said that his son, River, whom he walks to school loves Shatto as much as he does.
“If John’s absent for any reason, it breaks his heart,” Wimberly said. “He always includes crossing guard on list of things he wants to be when he grows up, because of him.”
Shatto’s years on the job have given the opportunity to listen to the students that he encounters, something that he cherishes, because it could change someone’s life.
“I tell them that they can talk to me about anything,” Shatto said. He recounted one instance which he unknowingly saved a girl from an abusive home. He discovered that the child was being molested by her grandfather, all from a crosswalk conversation.
“I went to the school with that one,” Shatto said. “As far as I know, he’s still in jail, and they got her in counseling. I was so glad that she had enough trust in me to let me know, and I could do something about it. The best thing I ever did out here was save that one girl’s life.”
Despite Shatto’s love of the children he encounters, he hasn’t been immune to complaints. What he sees as innocent, some people take issue.
He once started working on a photo album of the kids he bonded with over the years, with the intention of giving the photos to parents as a keepsake. However, he received a complaint before he could finish the project.
“You don’t get to do good things anymore, the parents loved it, but I had to quit, because people complained one time and my boss said I couldn’t do it anymore,” Shatto said. “Some of these parents can’t afford to get the regular school pictures anymore, but I still had to quit.”
Even in the face of that adversity, Shatto still continued with his duties as a crossing guard, and he still loves to be a helping hand to those around him.
“It’s just a different world that we live in, I go to church on Sunday, and live a Christian life, Shatto said. “I love to give, and I pray that God puts people in my life that I can help, I’m just that kind of guy.”
Shatto will continue working into the next school year, because “he has nothing better to do.” That is because he feels, that there truly is nothing better to do than be a crossing guard.
“I’m just an ordinary guy, nothing special about me,” Shatto said. “I just like to do what I do, I’m ready to quit everything except this, I’ll be out here as long as my health holds up.”