OGDEN — Each morning before school, crossing guard "Big John" Lewis braves the sometimes biting cold to help kids make it safely to Wasatch Elementary before the morning bell rings.
"There's nothing I could think of that could take its place. It's a thankful job to have. Even though it's cold, that's fine. The kids laugh, and they warm your heart," Lewis said.
It's no surprise that he has been nominated for America's Favorite Crossing Guard, a competition held by nonprofit Safe Kids Worldwide, whose mission is to promote children's safety, according to its website.
For the past six and a half years, Lewis has greeted each Wasatch Elementary School student at the beginning and end of the school day with a smile, a high-five, a fist bump or a secret handshake.
But the children aren't the only ones who benefit from Lewis' warmth.
For passing motorists, he offers a wave and a smile; for dogs on their morning walk, he offers a doggie treat; and for parents, he offers the comfort of knowing their children can safely cross the busy school intersection.
Peggy Davis, coordinator of crosswalk guards in Ogden, nominated him for the award. "John stands out because not only does he go above and beyond in his job, he goes above and beyond in the community," she said.
This past Christmas season, Lewis and his wife prepared around 60 backpacks for the homeless. And his wife has knitted caps for kids in the school who didn't have hats to keep them warm, she said.
The consensus among students on their way to school is that "Big John" notices when they're feeling down and makes them feel better with his fist bumps, handshakes and other greetings.
"Whenever you're sad and you think about him, you just have to smile," one student said.
Parent Anna Hunter agrees. "He makes the kids happy. That's one sentence that sums him up," she said.
While he brightens the children's days, he says they in turn cheer him up by saying "the funniest and neatest little comments" and sometimes even bringing him treats.
"They'll bring me a hot drink in the morning with a muffin or a donut … and in the summer, you get ice cream cones and Popsicles and all sorts of fun, fun things," Lewis said.
"Everybody loves John," said Jim Hatch, who walks by the school on his morning walk. He said the community appreciates the crossing guard's service.
During a time when many people hurry to get to work, almost everyone who drives by waves and smiles.
During a recent morning, nearly everyone who drove by Lewis seemed to wave or at least smile. Some rolled down their windows and exchanged greetings. When one car rolled up, a little girl passed Lewis a hot cup of coffee through the window.
Lewis' position enables him to notice those who may need help within the community, Davis said. He has gathered donations, including clothing, bike helmets and other items for the students. He also notices safety concerns, she said.
"He does all kinds of things for the school. When he sees people who need something, he helps them," added Gina Salvo, head secretary at Wasatch Elementary School.
Though he has worked as a crossing guard for the past several years, Lewis has served the Ogden community for much longer. A native of Ogden, Lewis volunteered for the police department for many years. He met his "precious wife" within the police service, he said. The couple has three daughters.
After retiring from a 44-year truck-driving career, a friend of his at the police department suggested he apply to become a crossing guard. Lewis said he was skeptical of the idea at first, but thinks differently now.
"It's the best thing I've ever done," he said. "I just can't think of anything that I would rather be doing than having a good time with these kids up here. It gives you something to get up in the morning for."
The secret to his upbeat attitude, he says, is simple: positive thinking.
"It's easier to be happy than it is to be upset or angry," Lewis said. "I love people. I'm a people person, and I love everybody that I meet."
He says being nominated for this national award is "the most recognition" he has ever received and he is thankful to be nominated for such an honor. As of Sunday, Lewis was in second place in the race for America's Favorite Crossing Guard. Should he win, Wasatch Elementary will receive a $500 grant.
Those interested in helping Lewis and Wasatch Elementary win the competition can vote online at Safe Kids Worldwide.