Face of the Week: Catherine Asendorf of Carney Elementary School
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Face of the Week: Catherine Asendorf of Carney Elementary School

For as long as she can remember, Catherine Asendorf has followed the same routine every school day morning: Up at 6. Bundle against the cold or layer to prepare for heat. Drive to a busy street corner. Walk into rivers of fast-moving traffic.    

It’s a schedule she first fell into back in 1967. That was eight presidents ago, the same year they played the first Super Bowl and gas cost 33 cents per gallon, the year the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Texas Instruments unveiled the first pocket calculator.

This week, nearly half a century later, Asendorf was still at it, rising before the sun, braving the elements, and plunging into heavy rush-hour traffic along Joppa Road twice a day in front of Carney Elementary School. At 89, she’s Baltimore County’s oldest and most veteran school crossing guard.

“I wish I could go another 49 years, too,” the petite Asendorf says, her words punchy and animated above the whoosh of a biting wind swirling through her crosswalk at 8th Avenue and Joppa. This morning, she’s swathed in a heavy coat and gloves, peering through rose-tinted glasses at the morning rush. “I just love what I do and I do what I love. After all this time, it’s still the reason I get out of bed in the morning.”

Asendorf and fellow guard Milan Chaudhuri staff the 8th Avenue post twice each day, at arrival and dismissal, and Asendorf, a Parkville resident, also escorts children to and from Immaculate Heart of Mary School at Putty Hill Avenue and Loch Raven Boulevard. She’s one of 202 crossing guards employed by the Baltimore County Police to protect children at 270 locations throughout the county, according to her supervisor, Officer First Class Jonathan Strickler.

“She brings the enjoyment every day,” Strickler says of his octogenarian employee. “She’s always speaking with the children and speaking with the parents, and she’s always very positive. She’s indeed an asset to our department.”

Asendorf has been at Carney about five years, but “I think I’ve been to every school in Baltimore County over the years,” she says, including a few that no longer stand. But the joys have remained constant – though she has no children of her own, she says she enjoys getting to know children and their parents as her own, and she takes pride in knowing she does an important job well. With some families, she’s seen children grow into parents themselves who now escort their own children through her crosswalk.

Monica Dancy of Parkville recently greeted Asendorf as she walked her son Dylan to Carney. “She’s crossed every one of my five kids and grandkids. She’s a little rowdy, but you have to be rowdy out here,” Dancy says of Asendorf. “For my kids, though, it’s like she’s the only grandmother they have, and she’s wonderful with them. She’ll bring them gifts or hugs. When she’s not at the crosswalk, we’re all in a panic.”  

Adds Carney Principal Barbara McLennan, “I know she is there every day and has made wonderful friendships with our parents and children.”

Asendorf became a crossing guard after a friend suggested the gig as a good way to make part-time money. “I was very content at home, but she said it required two hours a day and made good money; it sounded like big money to me,” she says.

Other than being a part-time secretary, Asendorf stayed at home, married 45 years to the late Walter Asendorf, a manager at the Filterite Corp. in Timonium. She has worked crosswalks at Stoneleigh, Dumbarton, and the old Hillendale (now Halstead) schools, among others.

The changes, she says, have been thankfully few – children and their parents are still as respectful and pleasant as they were a half century ago, Asendorf says. If anything, she adds, drivers today are too impatient and faster than they once were, now occasionally refusing to stop or swerving around her outstretched red stop sign. “Some days it’s like we’re invisible out here,” she says.

On a recent morning, Asendorf clears the way slowly, inching her way into oncoming traffic the way a matador might approach an angry bull. Some cars slow gradually; others, moving faster, come to violent, hard stops. Only when cars are fully stopped in both directions does Asendorf motion her small charges and their parents across Joppa Road.

Asendorf says drivers should slow down, be patient, and respect the upheld stop signs and crossing children. And, she says after observing a mother and children jaywalk on a recent morning, pedestrians should cross only at the crosswalks and preferably with a guard present.

“I’m fine with being part of the old school,” she says. “I believe that when you take a job, you do what you’re supposed to do. What I’m supposed to do is keep children safe. I’m not out here just to get fresh air. I’m out here to protect children.”

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