For two years, crossing guard Kathy Engdahl has brightened the mornings of motorists and school children at South Camino Seco and East Kenyon Drive with her friendly smile and enthusiastic wave.

That friendliness and dedication to getting children across the street safely is why she was named the 2017 Pima County AAA crossing guard of the year at a surprise assembly at Harold Steele Elementary School on Friday morning.

AAA Arizona started searching for the 10th annual award winner at the beginning of the school year. The organization received hundreds of nominations from people describing why their school’s crossing guard should receive the title.

Engdahl’s nominators praised the fact that she knows most students by name and really “keeps an eye on them.”

“She takes her job seriously to get the kids to their destination safely while trying to add a little something positive to their day,” one nominator wrote.

“Kathy takes the mundane and brings smiles to the kids. She dresses up to fit the occasion, ranging from Halloween to Easter to Valentine’s Day to Christmas,” another said.

The school’s principal, Lisa Thomas, said being a crossing guard at that location is a high anxiety job because of how busy the street is, and requires somebody to “be really aware.”

“And she does it with a smile on her face,” Thomas said. “And she’s often the first school personnel member the kids face in the morning and it’s nice that they feel welcome and taken care of.”

When the announcement was made to an auditorium full of cheering children and staff, Engdahl covered her face in surprise.

Until that moment, Engdahl had no idea why the school was keeping her there longer than her shift.

The title came with a plaque, a $500 gift card for Engdahl and a $500 gift card for the Tucson Unified school.

“This was just so overwhelming,” Engdahl said. “It’s great.”

She became a crossing guard after retirement, as did her husband who works at Henry Elementary.

“We kind of got bored a little bit, so we decided to try something,” Engdahl said.

“I just love the kids. I really do,” she added. “And you know, waving at people that go by, if we can give them a smile, it’s awesome. It’s just a great feeling.”

Contact Angela Pittenger at 573-4137 or apitteng@tucson.com. On Twitter: @CentsibleMama

Families and schools reporter for #ThisIsTucson. Artist, photographer, mother of one.