It doesn’t always require a grand gesture to turn someone’s morning or afternoon around. Usually, a smile and a wave will do just fine.
So if you’re ever feeling a little down, just make a trip on Sheridan Road past Washington Middle School on a weekday, either when students are heading in or coming out of school.
Because Kenosha’s Ernest Fisher is right there to give you a wave and a kind smile. It just might turn your day around.
In the simple and wise words of Fisher: “It doesn’t cost anything to wave or give a smile and say hello.”
For going on 18 years now, Fisher has dispensed such pleasant greetings while working for the City of Kenosha as an adult crossing guard. He’s stationed at one of the city’s busiest crossings before and after school, outside Washington on the corner of 43rd St. and Sheridan Rd., right across from the Dairy Queen.
Fisher has helped thousands of Washington students cross that busy road safely before and after school, all while giving passers-by his signature wave and smile.
For his efforts to make his corner of Kenosha a better place, Ernest Fisher has been named this week’s Kenosha.com Kenoshan of the Week.
A perfect job for retirement
Like so many Kenoshans of his era, Fisher was an auto worker, first for American Motors and then later for Chrysler, before settling into retirement.
Like many retirees, however, Fisher got bored quickly.
“When I retired for three years, I didn’t do anything,” he said on a recent weekday from his post after school. “But then on my fourth year, I said, ‘Well, you know, it’s time for me to do something to wake me up in the morning. … I just want to get something that’ll help me wake up from my naps and everything.’
“So I said, ‘Crossing guard is nice. I don’t mind kids. It’s fun.’ Especially when you don’t have to be with them all day!”
Thus began Fisher’s post-retirement career as an adult crossing guard outside Washington. He didn’t anticipate doing it for what’s now been nearly two decades, but Fisher doesn’t have any immediate plans to hang up the whistle and stop sign.
He still enjoys taking his post on the corner of 43rd St. and Sheridan Rd. every morning and afternoon on weekdays during the school year.
“I never thought I was going to be doing this this long,” Fisher said. “… As long as it’s fun, it’s not work. You know what they say: It’s not work. So I enjoy it.”
Of course, while the job is fun for Fisher, it’s also serious. He’s making sure some of our city’s most precious cargo stays safe while crossing a road that sees heavy traffic. Fisher notes that the installation of the flashing yellow lights at his intersection has been very helpful, and there’s a technique he uses to make sure motorists are stopping when kids cross the street.
“You have your whistle and you have your stop sign, but you have to judge when it’s a perfect time to go out there, because there are a lot of people that will go right through your stop sign,” Fisher said. “So you have to know when and where to go out there.
“Just because you’ve got the stop sign and a whistle, that doesn’t give you carte blanche.”
When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Fisher had a quick answer.
“The kids,” he said. “And also the people who I see every day going by. I’m a friendly guy.”
After nearly 18 years doing the job, Fisher said he’s now crossed kids who have grown up to have their own kids attend Washington. So he’s crossing another generation.
Fisher said he loves sharing in the students’ lives, dispensing advice when he can and just watching them grow up.
“Especially when it’s the first day of school, and you see them and they’re all fresh and everything, and then three years later, you see them growing up and they’re getting ready to go to high school,” Fisher said.
“… They will come up to me and say, ‘I remember you. You used to cross me when I was a kid.’ It feels good when that happens.”
Fisher recalled one specific example.
“There’s this son and mother that drive by here ever since I started,” he said. “… I remember him as a kid growing up. He comes by every now and then, and we talk and I ask him how he’s doing and everything.
Even in the winter, which – as you could tell this week by looking outside on Halloween afternoon – is arriving shortly.
“Long johns, layers and those packets that keep your hands warm,” Fisher said when asked how he keeps warm during the cold months. “… The city provides you with good coats and all of the clothing that you need to do this job, rain gear for when it’s raining and everything.
“The city tries to do its best to keep you warm.”
Family in town
Fisher is originally from Waukegan, Ill., just over the border down Sheridan Road from his current crossing guard post, but he actually resided in Kenosha for a time as a youngster before returning permanently.
Fisher once lived with his grandmother in the old Bonnie Hame Federal Housing Project at 52nd St. and 30th Ave., a space that’s long been vacant now. But in the late 1950s, when Fisher lived there, it was full of federal housing.
“Q8 and M12,” Fisher recalled of the units his family occupied.
By the mid-1960s, however, there were no more residents in the Bonnie Hame Project, and Fisher returned to his Illinois roots. He then got married, and in 1972, he and his wife, Phyllis, moved back up to Kenosha for good, with Ernest in his career as an auto worker.
“We made Kenosha our home,” Fisher said.
Ernest and Phyllis have been married for almost 51 years now. They have four children and seven grandchildren, who all live in Kenosha, too.
However, none of the grandchildren have attended Washington Middle School.
“I never got a chance to cross them,” Ernest says with a laugh.
An avid Chicago Bears, Cubs and Bulls fan – Ernest was proudly wearing his Bears hat on the day of this interview – Fisher and his family love calling Kenosha home.
“I like the proximity between Milwaukee and Chicago,” he said. “And you’ve got Lake Michigan that’s right here, and you’ve got the parks and everything. So there’s plenty to do.”
And every weekday during the school year, at 43rd St. and Sheridan Rd., you can find Ernest Fisher doing his part to make Kenosha a safer and better place.
“This is my contribution to the City of Kenosha,” he said.