By Katie Crawford
The crossing guard at the intersection of Chester Road and College Avenue allows the children walking to school to arrive safer, and also a little smarter.
Ron McCracken greets his crew of “walkers” every day with a new vocabulary word. There is a word for each day of the week and each week all of the words begin with the same letter. The students are quizzed on the meaning of the words as they cross to and from at the beginning and end of each day. At week’s end, each student receives a handwritten index card with the words for the week and their definitions.
Words have always been important to Ron, but for much of his adult life it was sung words that mattered most. Ron was a singer and soloist for Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, performing secular and sacred music across the country in such notable venues as Carnegie Hall and Red Rocks Amphitheater. At one point, he performed 720 concerts in nine months with the group.
Following his time with the Pennsylvanians, Ron joined The Spurrlows, so named for their director Thurlow Spurr. While the group performed more secular songs, their performance, “Splendor of Sacred Songs,” packed places like the 5,000-seat Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio.
Ron still sings when he can with the choir at the Church of the Savior in Wayne, and has continued to perform with this most recent group. Their performance at the Kimmel Center brought rave reviews. As a result of his singing career, Ron has met Placido Domingo five times. When pressed, he names Mario Lanza’s “I’ll Walk with God” as his favorite song.
Ron lived in Southern California, across the road from the ocean for 21 years. In 1981 he had the pleasure of attending 41 home Dodgers games, and yet he remained a steadfast Phillies fan, always rooting for his hometown team when they came to town. In 2003, Ron returned to Woodlyn and the house where he was born to care for his ailing mother. He resides there today.
Ron was encouraged by a neighbor to apply for the job as crossing guard. He thought of the words as a way of showing the kids that he was also interested in their education, but even he was surprised by how quickly it caught on with both kids and parents. Some days he has strangers yelling out from their cars, “What’s the word today?”
Simon’s favorite word is bamboozle. Dexter finds jerrybuilt really funny. Eden likes jabber, Minori — indefatigable. As school wraps up, the words wrap up too, but Ron’s walkers will be left with a stack of neatly printed index cards and perhaps a few wrappers from the Kit-Kat bars he hands out on special occasions — “the definitive candy for kids,” according to the wordsmith.