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Crossing guard safeguards Lakewood Ranch's most precious commodity: Children

Indigo's Donald Karn has been a crossing guard for three years and loves interacting with the students and parents.

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Indigo’s Donald Karn held a bag filled with cards and notes from the families he sees every day during the school year. 

Karn, who is a crossing guard at the intersection of 44th Avenue East and Wood Fern Trail outside B.D. Gullett Elementary School and down the street from Dr. Mona Jain Middle School, treasures every one hose cards.

He smiled as he read one from a young student that said, "Ty For Krooseg us and HiFa good liF.”

Another note read, “Thanks for keeping us safe every day Mr. Don. Merry Christmas. The Lo family.” 

“You can’t put a price on that,” said Karn, who has been a crossing guard for three years. 

He said those notes makes him "melts on the inside.”

Indigo's Donald Karn, a crossing guard at the intersection of 44th Avenue East and Wood Fern Trail, has received dozens of notes and cards from students and families. (Photo by Liz Ramos)
Indigo's Donald Karn, a crossing guard at the intersection of 44th Avenue East and Wood Fern Trail, has received dozens of notes and cards from students and families. (Photo by Liz Ramos)

One day Karn was at his post when a motorist called him over to his car.

“I thought, 'I’m going to get screamed at for something,'” Karn said. 

The man presented Karn with a police officer challenge coin, which is a reward given to someone, usually a member of the military or a first responder, who performs their duties extremely well.

“It was beautiful,” Karn said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to put that in with my special cards.’”

It all makes him love his job.

Although he doesn’t remember all the names of the dozens of students who cross the street, he does remember their faces.

He loves seeing the little boy in his Spider-Man suit every day or the three sisters who give him a high five. He loves saying good morning or good afternoon, giving fist bumps or having a quick chat.

“There’s one guy who comes by every morning, and I always have the whistle in my mouth,” Karn said. “He always says, ‘You can’t talk with your mouth full. So I spit the whistle out, and I say, ‘Good morning’ to him. He laughs at me every single morning because I do it every morning, and he knows that. That’s a great moment.”

Karn retired and moved to Lakewood Ranch from Ohio three years ago, but he found his days in retirement to be filled with boredom. 

“I wanted to find something to do that was worthwhile and would help people,” Karn said. “I heard about the crossing guards from a friend of mine who said I would really like it. I said OK, and I went and applied.”

Karn was first assigned to White Eagle Boulevard and 44th Avenue East until a traffic light replaced the four-way stop at the intersection in 2020. He was then moved to the intersection of 44th Avenue East and Wood Fern Trail.

“I feel like I’m accomplishing something,” Karn said.

Since he began working, he has noticed a difference in the elementary and middle schoolers who pass his way.

“It’s funny because there’s a difference between the elementary schoolers and middle schoolers," he said. "The middle schoolers are all nice but they’re in a different world sometimes, but they always say ‘hi’ and ‘nice to see you’ but they’re busy talking on their cell phones or talking to each other.”

Safety is his top priority. He always ensures students who are riding bikes get off their bikes and walk across the road so there isn’t a risk of them falling in front of traffic.

When Karn is in the intersection stopping traffic, his fellow crossing guard assigned to the intersection, Joni Munns, will say, “Corner,” to let Karn know there is someone waiting to cross Wood Fern Trail. 

Due to the shortage of crossing guards, Karn has to help pedestrians cross 44th Avenue East and Wood Fern Trail because there isn’t a guard available to cover Wood Fern Trail. 

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office needs to hire at least 15 crossing guards on top of the already 86 on staff to have a full staff across the county. 

Although there is a school zone that limits drivers to 20 miles per hour, Karn still has to be wary of drivers going over the speed limit or turning when it is not allowed.

“Any day you don’t get hit is a good day,” Karn said. “The kids’ safety definitely comes first. I’m important because I stop the traffic and let the kids cross safely. Honestly, if it comes between me and a child getting hit, it’d be me. No doubt in my mind, I would jump in front of a car.”

Karn said the first few weeks of school are absolute chaos on the road as parents are trying to figure out how to drop their children off at school and families haven’t developed their routines yet. 

“Have you ever been in the middle of a tornado?” Karn said with a laugh when asked what it’s like on the first day of school. “You just grab ahold and hang on. You do everything at a slower pace because you have to make sure they understand (how to cross or drive safely at the intersection).”

By the last day of school, the walk or drive to or from school is a breeze. 

Karn said the students and parents are all smiles on the last day, and dozens of people thank him for keeping everyone safe throughout the year. 

“The kids are all happy, the parents all thank you,” Karn said. “They all expect you to come back, and I see no reason why I won’t be back next year.”


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