IVINS — If it’s a school day in Ivins, there’s one person residents are guaranteed to see at the corner of 400 East and 200 South: 81-year-old Sandy Ames.

Sandy Ames, 81, does what she has done for nearly 20 years — helping kids on their way to Red Mountain Elementary cross the street at the corner of 400 East and 200 South, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 29, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Wearing her neon yellow-green uniform, she raises a stop sign while taking intermittent trips to help students and pedestrians safely cross the street past the neon-green traffic cones she set up earlier that day.

Since 2005, when Ivins had 40% fewer population and Red Mountain Elementary School was 7 years old, Ames has been stationed at the same corner when kids go to school in the morning and when they come home. Sometimes she has a shadow — her cat Shadow, who is known to join her and the kids on occasion to “catch mice.”

Ames lives just a few houses down. On the morning St. George News stopped by for an interview, Shadow the cat came for a brief snub.

“She had been out hunting mice already and I said, ‘Go home now and stay home until I get home,” Ames said. “And don’t get run over. She knows where home is, so she goes home.”

Many of the kids she helped cross the street nearly 20 years ago are old enough to be the parents of those Ames helps today. 

“I’ve gotten to know the kids. The kids have gotten to know me, then they graduate from this school and then they come back to see me every couple of years,” Ames said. “They say, ‘Oh, don’t you remember me? I said, ‘Of course, I remember you.”

But Ames admitted she might not always be entirely truthful. It’s not any of the forgetfulness that can come with aging. It’s just that the last time she saw that 27-year-old, they were six.

“Half the time I don’t remember them because they’ve grown up and they’ve changed,” Ames said.

She added that the job is perfect to her as she looks around at the postcard scenery, turning off the flashing school zone signs. The last kids have moved on to Red Mountain Elementary about a block away. 

And she sees perfection.

“It’s so beautiful. I was just walking up the street from that light and thinking I’m so glad I live in Ivins, where I see that beautiful Red Mountain and the Pine Valley mountain over there usually has snow on it in the wintertime,” Ames said. “It’s just really perfect. I couldn’t have had a perfect job or living in a more perfect town, or living in a more perfect place.”

Sandy Ames seen is a screenshot from Google Maps in an image taken at the corner of 400 East and 200 South, Ivins, Utah, April 2023 | Photo courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

In the center of Ivins near Center Street, Ames and Shadow are as much a fixture of the city as City Hall to the north and the growing Black Desert Resort to the east. She’s iconic enough that those who search the corner of 400 East and 200 South on Google Maps will see her.

And she has drawn the notice of some powerful people.

During a recent Ivins City Council meeting, council member Kevin Smith, who also runs the Tuacahn Center for the Arts, said Ames is worthy of a top city honor. He asked that the city do so at the next council meeting.

“She’s been like the Energizer bunny,” Smith said of Ames. “She’s always safe. Always considerate.”

Ames has kept going and going and says she doesn’t feel at all like her batteries are running out. There’s probably no way to know for sure, but in Ivins’ short history as a city, she is likely the longest-serving crossing guard. After 20 years, Ames says she feels like she’s about “halfway through.”

“I think I’m 81 years old. But you know, I feel like I’m still 60,” Ames said. “I can run down the road if I see a kid who fell off his bike, I can run down the road. And I’ve picked many a kid up off, or who got in a fight with another kid or fell off his bike or whatever.”

Something that is missing from Ames’ corner is a chair. She stands and walks for her entire shift in the mornings and afternoons. In a time where there is talk of Southern Utah being a “blue zone,” where living an active lifestyle seems to be a key to living longer, Ames has had an active life as a sports coach.

Growing up, her family started in Nevada, then Southern California. But her family also had a summer cabin in Pine Valley. And in those summers, she formed a best friends group with seven girls and started a lifeline friendship that extends to this day. That group included Patricia Terry Holland, the late wife of the current acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jeffrey Holland.

Crossing guard Sandy Ames, 81, stands at her usual spot on the corner of 400 East and 200 South in Ivins, Utah, Feb. 29, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In her first career, Ames was a youth swimming coach in California, Nevada, Florida and Arizona. But she still kept coming back to Utah to see her friends. 

“So finally, when I got to be 50, 60 years old and thought about retiring, all my girlfriends who were still mostly here said, well, why don’t you come back to Utah and be with us?” Ames said.  “I said, ‘Well, where else do I have to go? I’ve been all over the place.”

She moved into a home she had built in Ivins in 2004. But retirement didn’t suit Ames. She decided to go look for a job. But Ames said being a crossing guard was “a fluke.”

She had stopped at all kinds of places, asking if they had any positions open. An ice cream store here, a secretary position there — nobody bit. Almost as a last-ditch attempt, she walked into the Ivins City offices to see if they had any open positions.

The two people up front said “no.” But just as Ames was leaving, a woman from the back of the room yelled out, “As a matter of fact, we do.”

“And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a miracle’ because it was one of the last places I stopped and I just run my course. And so she said, ‘Yeah, we have a crossing guard station that’s open.’”

The guard station happened to be next to her home. Ames said she was then interviewed by a few police officers.

“I got a bunch of books and they said something funny like, ‘You can’t flirt with any of the people you work with.’ Well, what? Do I work with kids?” Ames said. “So I sort of laughed and a police officer training me looked at me like, ‘You know, this is a job. You don’t laugh at this job.’ So I just kind of straightened up right then. I got the job and I’ve been here ever since.”

After 20 years, Ames said there is something that has surprised her about the job. The children.

This stock photo shows Red Mountain Elementary, Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Alexa Morgan, St. George News

“Just how sweet they are. How good they are,” Ames said. “Every once in a while, I’ll run into some kid who wants to run across the road or cross in the middle of the road before he gets to me coming from school. But otherwise, it is just a perfect job for me.”

There is one thing that irks Ames. It’s not any misbehaving kids; it’s misbehaving adults.

“It upsets me a lot because they go very fast through here, way too fast,” Ames said. “Oh, I’ve got (the school speed limit sign) lights on. I turn the lights on and off twice a day but never mind. They just go through really fast, and it upsets me that they don’t even bother to look at the lights. That’s the only thing that upsets me that I see every single day that I work.”

But any anger from that goes away when she helps protect a second grader past any of the misbehaving grown-ups behind the wheel.

“I love the kids. The kids love me. And I work two hours a day for a little extra money,” Ames said. “How can you turn that down? So I don’t want to quit.”

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