IRVINE – Parents and pupils at Turtle Rock Elementary on Friday showered cards, balloons, gifts and words of encouragement on Darleene Hoag, their beloved, 14-year crossing guard. It was her 90th birthday.
Children and parents honked, waved and shouted "happy birthday" from their cars and school buses.
Those who were walking handed her cards and gifts such as plants, flowers and plenty of chocolate.
Chocolate is her favorite food – "and they know it," Hoag said.
A giant banner taped on the wall behind her morning post was signed by at least 100 teachers, jpupils and parents.
"I'm amazed," Hoag said about the big deal that school staffers, parents and kids made of her 90th birthday.
Hoag retired as a secretary at 62, but that lasted about three months.
"I got so bored, I had to do something," she said. She applied for the crosswalk gig and has been at it ever since.
She's out there every school day – rain, shine, or 100-degree weather, parents said. Her shifts are 7:20 to 8:20 a.m. and 1:45 to 3 p.m.
The only school day she's missed in 14 years was the day she had surgery for cancer in her wrist, Hoag said. That was a Friday, and she recuperated the following week, which was spring break.
Hoag is an employee of Irvine Police Department, but her heart belongs to the Turtle Rock school community.
"We love her, absolutely love her," parent Patricia Diaz said. "She is totally an inspiration to us. We are so happy to celebrate her birthday with her."
Diaz's youngest son, Bruno, became friends with Hoag when he was 3, accompanying his mother and siblings on their walk to school. Bruno insisted that his mother buy him a bright vest and small stop sign so he could look like her. Hoag gave him a whistle, and for the next year and a half Bruno guarded the crosswalk with Hoag as her little helper, Diaz said.
"She is so inspiring, so youthful," said parent Mary Iwata. "My own grandmother could not do what she does. She is so great with the kids. It is sweet to have a woman like her in our community. She deserves all of this attention. The kids are very familiar with her, and they feel secure because of her."
"She is an absolute treasure," said parent Michael Robinson-Dorn. "She makes everyone happy. Her work is part of the kids' routine and she makes them feel so welcome. There could not be a better ambassador for the school."
"She is very special," said parent Sunanda Tyagi. "The kids are very safe with her. They all obey her all the time. They never go out until she blows her whistle. And she always has a smile."
Hoag lives in Irvine's Woodbridge Village, which is about five miles away from Turtle Rock Elementary. Last year, she was given the chance to move to a different school that was just one block from her home. She could walk, rather than drive. She thought about it overnight but decided to stay put at Turtle Rock.
"I wouldn't leave these kids for anything in the world," she said.
Her family is throwing a "big party" for her at noon Saturday, she said.
Hoag, who has been widowed twice, is not a native resident.
"I was born in Chicago and raised in California," she said. She moved to Irvine in 1996.
Hoag survived breast cancer, and participates in Susan G. Komen for the Cure events.
"I consider myself very blessed," she said.
She's also a raving Lakers fan.
"I'm proud to be a Laker Grannie," says the license-plate frame on her car.
She's pleased with the team's recent selection of Mike D'Antoni as head coach.
"I like him very much," she said.
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