Remembering the school patrol

Paul Stevens

Wearing distinctive shoulder harnesses, bright yellow helmets and shiny badges, Fort Dodge school patrol boys and girls once were responsible for the safety of their fellow students crossing streets at the beginning and the end of each school day.

Hundreds of youngsters — chosen by teachers and the principal at their school — served to protect their fellow students. They were stationed on the corners of the city’s public and parochial schools beginning in 1947 and continuing until sometime in the 1970s.

“I remember how we took that responsibility really seriously in guarding those streets around the school,” recalled Tom Goodman, a patrol boy at Lincoln and Duncombe elementary schools who has saved his lieutenant patrol badge to this day.

The patrol work was overseen for many years by Officer Joe Koll, a Fort Dodge policeman who rode his three-wheel motorcycle from school to school, checking on the young volunteers. The program was sponsored by the AAA Motor Club of Iowa, which contributed the belts and badges. The Lions Club furnished raincoats and the Junior Chamber of Commerce the helmets.

“He loved it,” said Koll’s son Jim Koll of his father, who died in 2006. “It was something he thought was important, and he and my mom went out of their way to try to improve.

“It was his official police duty. He handled outreach between the department and the children in schools. Nowadays they’re called resource officers. He would stop at corners and talk with kids when they passed. Back then, there wasn’t as much emphasis on community relations with police as there is now. My dad wanted students not to be afraid of talking to police officers, that they were there to help you. He always had a big smile on.”

When the student patrol system ended in Fort Dodge, sometime in the 1970s, at about the time sixth- and fifth-graders were moved from elementary to middle school, the school district took responsibility for assigning crossing guards where needed. They were — and still are — adults who are paid for their work, said Carla Filloon, district human resources director who herself once was a school patrol girl in Webster City.

Police outreach to schools continues — with two resource officers, Joelyn Johnson and Bryce Presswood, who are assigned to the district’s four elementary schools, middle school and high school. They will sometimes assist adult crossing guards before and after school, Officer Johnson said. (The AAA continues the school safety patrol program at 34,500 schools nationwide.)

Each patrol unit had a captain, a lieutenant and privates, and were selected on criteria that included leadership, reliability, good attendance record and respect of classmates. They were mostly sixth- and fifth-graders at elementary schools.

At Arey School, Vern Foughty said the captain and lieutenants had whistles. “Kids stood behind the flag until the captain blew the whistle for the boys to extend the flags out so traffic would stop and then the whistle again to have them brought back to a position that would stop kids from going into the street. The number of tweets from the whistle determined what action the boys were to take.”

At patrol meetings, said Jim Koll, “dad would remind them they were not here to order people around, they were here to make sure they were safe. They were never to step out in front of traffic. Once traffic cleared, they’d hold their sign out before students walked across the street.”

Only boys were initially part of the school patrol system and it wasn’t until sometime in the 1960s that girls were included — to the chagrin of many, including Sondra Anderson Price, who attended Lincoln School until 1952.

“Our sixth-grade year, several of us girls made up a song and acted out motions to: ‘here come the Patrol boys, Patrol boys, Patrol boys; here come the Patrol boys of Lincoln School.’ Repeat of above 3 lines. Then… ‘Oh see them there standing on the corner. Oh, see them there with their bright gold badge.’ As girls we just understood and didn’t question that they would always be boys. As far as I know choosing boys lasted into the ’60s.”

There were rewards for being a patrol boy and girl — among them, summer parties and tickets donated by Fort Dodge movie theaters. And more lasting rewards continued into the lives and careers of many who served.

“I remember feeling really important and responsible,” said Missy Sheker Travis, who served as a patrol girl at Feelhaver Elementary. “I have fond memories of being a patrol. I would think that was one of many great school experiences they lead me to become a teacher. I teach fifth- to eighth-grade science in Wisconsin now. I have always been responsible and dependable like I was back in fifth grade so there are things that have shaped me into the person I am today.”

Foughty — who was a patrol boy, lieutenant and captain in 1954-56, said: “I guess something in that duty stuck with me. I went on to have a successful career with the Iowa State Patrol from 1968 to 1993.”

He said the responsibility and other lessons learned from the experience helped “as one grows and matures. People depend on you. In this case it was the students’ parents having faith that we would do the best we could to help insure their child’s safety.”