All of our village crossing guards are dedicated to safeguarding our students, but Nick Lococo is more passionate than most. Lococo’s post is at Jackson and Hannah. Being the crossing guard for Garfield students at this location can be challenging because there is no stop sign on Jackson. These are streets students have to cross, as well as places where parents drop-off their kids. Lococo is vigilant, constantly turning his head to watch for cars. He’s following in the footsteps of his dad, James Lococo, a longtime crossing guard who never retired.

Anyone who spends time with Nick, will hear about his dad. They will also hear him bless others and give thanks for his own blessings. The greatest gift in Lococo’s life were his parents. “I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he says of his dad and his mother, Florence.

She grew up in a tiny village in northern Italy and at the age of 18 came by ship to America. She was alone and didn’t speak a word of English. Florence worked as a seamstress at Hart, Schaffner & Marx by day and took English courses at night. Lococo’s dad adored Florence and Nick never heard him raise his voice to her.

The family lived on the West Side of Chicago, which was rough even then. When he was 10, Lococo saw a murder victim lying on the sidewalk. He never shared the gruesome details with his family. He has a remarkable recall of the exact dates that are significant in his life, as well as the addresses where they occurred. 

A devout Catholic, he attended St. Mel Grammar and High School. His high school religion teacher was Dr. James Murray, who later analyzed Nick’s handwriting in the Review. After high school, he attended classes at the University of Wisconsin in Madison even though he was not enrolled. He was working at a car wash at the time.

Lococo has held a variety of jobs. He was a service representative for AT&T and worked for the U.S. Post Office. Today he is a volunteer English tutor at Cluster Tutoring in Oak Park.

After Lococo left Madison, he enrolled at Truman College and persisted until earning his associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. It only took 24 years. Though he has not received much formal education, he is a Renaissance man, with an in-depth knowledge of many subjects. His favorite is American history. He doesn’t own a TV. He reads history books instead.

Nick also loves to read newspapers. He found the application for the crossing-guard job in the Review and was hired in January 2019. Forest Park police trained him for the job. They told him where to stand, how to hold his sign and to wear a high-visibility vest and hat.

Starting the job in January was tough, especially during the Polar Vortex. Lococo dresses in layers and the vigorous walk, from the house his family moved to in 1970, warms him up. When asked about harsh weather, Lococo gives his patented response, “I put up with it.”

He also puts up with working three shifts a day. His first shift is from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. He returns at 11 and works until noon. His last shift is from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. In between shifts, he reads to relax. He needs to relax, after dealing with dangerous drivers. Most do not come to a complete stop at stop signs. “It’s a ‘Stop’ sign, not a ‘Pause’ sign,” Lococo likes to say. He estimated about one-in-five drivers exceed the 20 mph speed limit. 

He gets to know the parents and kids he crosses. They treat him with “kindness and generosity,” especially at Christmas. However, he does not learn the names of the students. He doesn’t want conversation to distract him from his duties. 

Like his dad, Lococo believes children are like flowers. They are precious to him and he longs for the day when, “Children are more important than automobiles.” 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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