Mary Owens waves at a passing car while waiting in the shade for more students to need her services near Southwestern Elementary School. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Mary Owens waves at a passing car while waiting in the shade for more students to need her services near Southwestern Elementary School. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Sporting a green reflective vest and a hand-held stop sign with red flashing lights, Mary K. Owens strides confidently to the middle of Main Cross Street in front of Southwestern Elementary School with a group of school children in tow.

She holds her sign up high and smiles at the children as they walk safely across the street.

"Those are my kids," Owens said. "I make sure they get across safe."

The Lexington native has been a crossing guard for nearly 20 years. She isn't precisely sure when she began, but it was around 1995, she said. She saw an advertisement in the newspaper and decided to apply.

She's been helping students cross the street safely ever since, no matter the weather. Owens said she stands guard in the heat, rain and even last year's heavy snow.

"I bundle up in the winter," she said. "I'll wear two or three coats, hats, extra pairs of socks, gloves."

In the almost two decades she's been stopping traffic, Owens has seen countless children grow up and move on to bigger things. It's why she keeps doing her job, she said.

"It's my favorite part of the job," she said. "I don't always know their names, but I know their faces."

Not all the students talk to Owens, but she says the ones who do are usually polite.

"(When they smile or say hello) It just makes my day."

One thing she wishes she could have convinced the town to do is put together the funds to build a sidewalk in the neighborhoods across the street from Southwestern Schools.

It doesn't make sense, Owens said, to help students cross the street safely and then have them walking in the street to get home.

Her crossing guard job - she's an employee of the town - isn't the only thing Owens does. She's also a security guard at King's Daughters' Hospital.

She's been working for the hospital for 36 years. She actually took over her father's post after he retired.

"They gave me his badge when I took over there," she said.

In recent years Owens has switched to being a part-time employee at the hospital. She'll turn 65 in a few weeks, and plans to retire this year.

But even though she's retiring from the hospital, she doesn't plan on hanging up her reflective vest anytime soon.

"I'm not going to give this up. As long as I can walk, I'm not going to give this up."