Gary Roybal on the job at Del Norte Elementary. Ilissa Gilmore Photo
The mornings are getting colder, but outside Del Norte Elementary, crossing guard Gary Roybal radiates warmth as he greets students and their parents.
For more than 12 years, Roybal has been stopping traffic to allow children to get to school safely. During that time, he’s become a prominent figure at the school, as well as in the lives of students and their families.
On the last day of school before Christmas break, children handed him gifts as they crossed and a parent hugged him, wishing him a Merry Christmas.
When he’s not stopping cars, he’s waving at them to say hello to the people inside. “You’ll be surprised how many people in the community you get to see come through here,” he said.
Some of the drivers are former students who stop to invite Roybal to their sports games and catch up with him. Kindergarten teacher Leesa Bates said former students come back often and thank him for his kindness.
“He loves kids and the kids adore him,” she said.
Bates said Roybal does his job without fail, despite rain or snow, maintaining a joyful attitude and engaging parents and children. “He’s just a very kind, giving man in his words and his time,” she said. “He’s very positive and encourages all the kids.”
Del Norte Elementary has a student population of 560. First-grade teacher Tamarah Helmstetler said Roybal “probably knows “more parents and kids in this school than the teachers do.”
Helmstetler, who teaches some of Roybal’s grandchildren said both he and his wife, Ruby, are dedicated to Del Norte and often volunteer their time to help out at the school and look after students.
“People like him come few and far between in this world,” she said.
The Roybals’ involvement with the school started when their youngest son Christopher attended the school. Since then, their older son Gary Paul and daughter Mandy have enrolled their children.
“Elementary school is the first step the kids have in life,” Gary said. “There are no guarantees in life, but you can lay the right foundation. Del Norte has been a great school for us.”
Gary and Ruby moved to Roswell from Fort Sumner in 1980. For more than 20 years, Gary worked at TMC/Novabus, a bus manufacturing plant, before it closed in 2002. However, the years of labor took a toll on the cartilage in his knees and damaged nerves in his hands. When he walks in the crosswalk, it’s with a cane and inside the arm he uses to hold up the Stop sign are steel rods and screws.
“It’s just something you gotta live with,” Gary said. “It makes things harder, but not impossible. I have limitations, but you just have to work within those limitations.”
He prefers to be active and often does water aerobics and uses cable weights at Roswell Racquet Club & Spa.
“I always tell my kiddos that I plan on living to 100, so dad’s going to be 107,” Ruby said.
Ruby has operated a day care in a room of the couple’s home for more than 20 years. It features a reading area, science supplies and toys for motorskill development.
“All my day care kids seem to love Gary more than me,” Ruby said. “I don’t know if he’s giving them candy behind my back, but they just think he’s super.”
Gary and Ruby have dedicated their lives to children, not only their own, but others, as well. From taking kids swimming and for catechism at St. John’s Catholic Church, to attending sports activities, the Roybals always take time to make sure children in their care have fun and feel loved.
In addition to their children and their children’s children, Gary and Ruby also have several dogs they consider family. For example, they call Christopher’s dog, Dallas, their grand-doggy.
In what little spare time they have, Ruby likes to spend it on her favorite hobby, photography, and countless pictures of their children and grandchildren decorate the walls of their home.
As for Gary, in the summer, he tends a garden that has produced award-winning pickled chiles. This year, his chiles won 13 ribbons at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair.
But out of all the recognition he’s received, Gary said he’s most proud of being named Coach of the Year in 2006 by Chaves County Character Counts!
“It’s a big deal because it means you’re doing what’s right for kids,” he said.
For Gary, working with children is a reward in itself.
“You never stop learning and the kids can teach you a lot if you stop and listen,” he said. “No kid is the same; each has their own personality. They can surprise you.”