St. Stephen – A community turned out Friday to show its love and support to elementary school crossing guard, Dot Larsen, for her 30 years of dedication to keeping children safe.
“It’s too much,” said an emotional Larsen, temporarily and uncommonly, at a loss for words, as she gazed at the inscription on the back of a granite bench which will be placed on the St. Stephen Elementary School side of the crosswalk on King Street where, rain or shine, Larsen has shepherded children across to and from school.
Below her name on the back of the bench, the inscription reads “Thank you for all your smiles.” The polished, double thick bench of Bianco Sardo granite from Italy was donated by a local company, Sticks and Stones Fabricating Inc. who worked with Saint Croix MLA John Ames, on the surprise. Another local company, Smet Monuments, etched the inscription.
With the help of the Town of St. Stephen, the 101.6 centimetres long bench will be permanently installed, anchored in concrete.
Larsen, who will be 79 years old in July, admitted she “didn’t have a clue” as to what would unfold Friday and, with her typical smile and a giddy little flip of her hand, said she had met the premier and shook his hand.
What she didn’t say was she had presented Premier Brian Gallant, whose birthday was last Thursday, with one of her unique sucker-stuffed, sticker-decorated, homemade birthday envelopes, which generations of St. Stephen residents have received over the years.
Ames said the premier was “delighted” with Larsen’s gift. Larsen received a lengthy commendation from Ames in the New Brunswick Legislature Friday morning, and later posed in the Senate Chamber for pictures with Gallant, Ames, and Education Minister Brian Kenny.
A public reception, where her bench was unveiled, was held late Friday afternoon at the Garcelon Civic Center, where Larsen received more accolades from those present.
Ames, who organized the recognition for the diminutive, and perpetually smiling, crossing guard, told those gathered “this is all about Dot”, describing her as the most famous person, and “certainly the most loved”, in St. Stephen.
He said he wanted to thank Dot “from the bottom of my heart.” She was his crossing guard as a youngster.
“She’s touched all of our hearts. Today is the day to celebrate all she’s done for us, and our beautiful little community, and all the smiles she gives us, we’re going to give them right back to her.”
SSES principal Colleen Winchester said Larsen “works diligently to keep our children safe, all the while building long lasting relationships with them.”
“I don’t even think the high school students can get by her without even a chat, or sometimes a hug. Dot makes everyone feel special. Her dedication to her job is to be admired.”
Winchester said beyond a doubt, Larsen is “the most popular and most loved person at St. Stephen Elementary.”
“Everywhere she goes, she’s literally bombarded by hugs from children of all ages. Her love and compassion for children is immense, (and) regardless of the weather, or the circumstances of the day, Dot always wears a smile.”
Winchester outlined how Larsen arrives daily at the school with birthday envelopes for the students and is, for many, an adopted grandmother.
“We’re all very blessed to have you in our lives.”
New Brunswick Southwest MP Karen Ludwig told the crowd packing the civic centre’s large upstairs conference room that there are many other famous women known by their first name, like Cher, and Madonna.
“When you hear the name Dot, everyone knows exactly who you’re talking about.”
Ludwig thanked Larsen on behalf of the Government of Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “for the safety that you offer to our community, and thank you for that smile you offer to all of us.”
St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern called Larsen a role model.
“Dot is known and loved by everybody in this community. She genuinely loves us as well. It definitely shows; she just glows with it. We’re always happy to see her. She’s a great example of what community is all about.”
The crowd laughed when the mayor stated “If she ran for mayor, I think I’d be in serious trouble.”
After thanking Ames for organizing the event, MacEachern turned to Larsen, and said “here’s your sucker,” presenting her with the candy.
Ames and Ludwig cut and served cake donated by the Superstore for the occasion, while Larsen received hugs and well wishes from residents, young and old alike.
Larsen, who didn’t work Friday because it was a professional development day for teachers, said she didn’t have any indication of what was in store for her.
She said Ames had told her it was “some little thing we’re doing for people in St. Stephen” as an excuse to get her to the Legislature.
In a video posted Saturday on Facebook by Larsen’s friend and neighbour Mandi Milligan, Larsen offered a thank you to everyone.
“I’m so overwhelmed at what everyone done for me yesterday. I just don’t know how to say thank you. I’m so happy with all the people that showed up to say congratulations.
“I’m hoping you will all accept this beautiful thank you right from my heart.”