School is starting and crossing guards are returning to their posts. There is one special person, though, who will not be at her post at Thomas and Jackson. Valerie Sivels-Jones has been the smiling presence there for three years, greeting the students and staff of Garfield School every morning. “Ms. Valerie,” a small woman with a big heart, died on June 20, 2022.

After her death, her big sister, Cardean Jenkins, wanted to honor her memory. The Forest Park police gave Jenkins permission to decorate the park bench on the northeast corner in memory of “Ms. Valerie. Jenkins” in a plaque that reads, “Because someone we love is in heaven, there is a little bit of heaven in our hearts.”

Students and their families also had “heaven in their hearts” and added their own tributes. “Ms. Valerie was an intelligent person,” reads one of the hand-printed signs. “She also helped me cross the street. She greeted me every time I went to school. I miss her.”

Many miss Ms. Valerie, especially her family. She had three sisters and began life in the Cabrini-Green housing project. When she was 8, her parents moved the family to the West Side. She attended Westinghouse High School and later studied at trade schools. She developed the skills that enabled her to serve as a pediatric administrator at Cook County Hospital. 

After working there for many years, she became a Human Resources representative at Rush Oak Park Hospital. But she felt burned out by administrative work and preferred to work outdoors as a crossing guard. Forest Park was a natural fit because Ms. Valerie had already lived here for 22 years, with her husband Kenneth Jones and their foster son Kenneth Jr. Instead of buying a house in Forest Park, they had their own built. Ms. Valerie liked everything about the village but the property taxes. 

She was very close to her sisters and they gathered for birthdays and monthly dinners. She was also very active at King David Missionary Baptist Church, where she taught the New Member class for many years. 

Ms. Valerie was only 4-feet-11, but she had a great spirit. She was “meek, mild and humble” said Jenkins. She loved the students she protected and many gave her hugs.

As one of them wrote, “Ms. Valerie was such a special person. She knew all the kids’ names after the first week of school. She appreciated every day, no matter the weather. She is loved and she will be missed. She always got us across safely. She made sure we watched the alley for traffic. Rest in peace. We will miss you.”

It was characteristic of Ms. Valerie to never complain about health problems. She didn’t even tell her sisters. Jenkins has great memories of attending her 60th birthday party on April 2, 2022. Ms. Valerie hosted a sit-down dinner and “danced all night.” She was happy and laughing as always. Few people knew she was ill until she passed away.

Jenkins regularly visited Ms. Valerie at her post and still stops there on her way to and from work. The police told her the shrine to Ms. Valerie could stay up as long as she wanted. Jenkins was touched by the tributes left by Garfield kids and their families. When they met at the shrine, they gave her hugs and shared condolences.  

Jenkins will soon be taking down the windmills and the other festive touches she added. Because a new person will be standing there to protect the kids as they cross. 

Ms. Valerie, no doubt, would approve.

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.