He only spent about two minutes with the kids each day, but his kindness, his jokes, his generosity and his pockets full of tootsie rolls and bubble gum have left a lasting impression on Wheaton students.
For the last decade, Anthony “Tony” Ghilarducci, or, “Mr. G,” stood at the corner of Franklin and Main streets on weekday afternoons to help hundreds students cross the road safely from Franklin and Longfellow schools.
On Friday, Jan. 23, Ghilarducci died in his home at age 73. He was born November 10, 1939 in Chicago.
He was the former vice president of floor operations at the Board of Trade in Chicago, where he had worked for over 40 years. He served as a crossing guard for Longfellow Elementary School and Franklin Middle School since 2002.
People who knew him say he was the kindest man—friendly, funny, genuine and reliable.
TJ Watson, an eighth grader at Franklin said he was stunned to hear Mr. G had died.
“One of my best memories from elementary school (is when) I would walk home with my friends… and he would always be there, and a lot of times he would give us gum… That was just one of the things he did (for) the kids—it was just so kind."
"He was always happy to see us," he added.
Sarah Gorman grew up hearing about Mr. G from her three older siblings, who are now in high school and college. Now in eighth grade, she said she wishes she could have had the full year with him.
She recalled one cold afternoon last week, when Mr. G tried to warm up some candy with his hands before giving it to her, and when he said, “thank you” for his Christmas gift with not only a card, but also a box of chocolate-covered cherries.
He always had a riddle, a joke or a question for kids, she added.
“When was the War of 1812?”
And, “Why did the girl cross the playground? To get to the other slide.”
Sarah’s mother Michele said her son, now a junior in college, described Mr. G as the “nicest man in the world” when he heard of his passing.
“He had such a wonderful impact on the lives of my four children,” she said. “…They were only with him for one or two minutes per day, (and it) just showed what a great individual he was to impact their lives with just one or two minutes daily.”
Gretchen Zeuch, a sixth grader at Franklin said just last week, she and her friends were thinking of something to get Mr. G in return for the sweets and kindness he so unwaveringly offered.
If she could say something to him now, it’d be: “Thank you for being such a good friend, instead of just this random stranger to all of us.”
“He really interacts with you instead of just crossing you," she said.
In his 10 years as a crossing guard, Mr. G was known to be reliable and well-liked, said Lt. Bob Miller of the Wheaton Police Department, who coordinated school crossing guards.
“He would go out of his way for anybody,” he said.
“He was one you didn’t talk to a lot because he rarely ever called in (to say) that he couldn’t make his crossing. …He was just always there for the kids—(and) the kids loved him.”
Sarah Benson, a 2011 graduate of Wheaton North High School commented on an earlier post, sharing what she wrote after seeing Mr. G over the summer:
"Today I saw my old middle school crossing guard. He’s an older man who stands on the corner waiting for kids to help them cross the street on their journey home from school. Those awkward middle school years consisted of heartache and insecurity. Every day as I was on my way home, he would ask me how I was and give me a piece of bubble gum. Today at the ripe age of 19 I walked passed him, and said “bubble gum?” Without a hesitation he reached into his bright crossing guard vest and pulled out a piece for me. Who knew one piece of gum could mean so much? Talk about the little things making a difference. That one piece of gum didn’t just leave me with something sweet to chew on, but memories of how a simple act of kindness can mean the world.”
Ghilarducci is survived by his wife of 46 years, Kathleen Ghilarducci; two daughters, Donna (Ken) Peterson of Wheaton, and Tara (Justin) Frederick, also of Wheaton; four grandchildren, Charlie and Beatrice Peterson, and Finn and Ellery Frederick; brother of three sisters, Lillian Vignola of Oak Park, IL, Lida Ghilarducci of Maryland, and Lolita (Donald) Sickler of Maryland; and many nieces and nephews.
A visitation will be held on Saturday, February 2, 2013 from 2-6 p.m at Hultgren Funeral Home. Prayers will be said at the funeral home at 5:30 p.m. Interment will be private.