After manning the corner of Esmond Loop and Stonehaven Way, on Tucson’s southeast side, for more than a year, Petra Wilcox will don a new orange safety vest, customized with the words “#1 2014 X-ing Guard,” when she guides children to and from Desert Willow Elementary School.

Wilcox, who also works with special-needs children at the Vail District school, was named the 2014 AAA Crossing Guard of the Year in Pima County at an assembly at the school Wednesday morning. The school said the event was a spring safety celebration, but the setup was all to surprise Wilcox.

She was met with applause and a standing ovation in the school’s outdoor amphitheater when it was announced she was chosen from more than 100 nominees as the top crossing guard in the county. The award comes with a $500 gift card for her and $500 for the school.

The school’s staff made Wilcox the new vest to celebrate the win.

Why she was chosen

Several people, including school staff members, parents and students, submitted nominations for Wilcox.

“Petra absolutely epitomizes the heart and soul of our community,” said Deborah Bryson, the school’s principal. “We work hard to ensure that safety is our top priority, and she starts children’s day and ends their day with a friendly greeting and a warm smile.

“She’s very conscious about their safety and shares her spirit and joy.”

After all the submissions were reviewed by the AAA staff, spokeswoman Valerie Vinyard secretly observed the two finalists.

“What really impressed me was people would drive by and call her and say, ‘Hi’ to her by name,” she said. “She just really seemed to be well-liked and -regarded by everyone — motorists, cyclists and walkers.”

Why she decided
to become a
crossing guard

“I’m an early person; I love to go out early and greet the kids and send them home,” she said. “They’re very special to me, and the parents, they’re great here, and it just makes my day in the morning.”

Nominators wrote about the weather crossing guards endure. What’s it like being out there each day?

“I think one of the worst days was in the monsoon season when it came down and there was no coat or anything that helped, and I was just standing there in the rain and in the wind, but it was all good,” Wilcox said.

Nominators wrote that you have a “G-rated” crosswalk. What does that mean?

“I’m just a friendly person, and kids, they all have to use the right language when they’re around, even the high schoolers that wait for the buses. They know when I’m around they don’t cuss,” she said. “Before (students arrive), I go around and I pick up trash. There are some things that kids don’t have to see.”

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at or 573-4224.