Popular crossing guard 'Charles on Charleston' retiring

Community reaches out to say thanks to man who's left strong impression on those he's met

He greets everyone, no matter their age, their mode of transportation or their occupation.

To many with whom he interacts, he is known as Charles, or as he has self-coined, "Charles on Charleston." Charles Gater is one of the 28 crossing guards employed by the Palo Alto Police Department to patrol intersections at the beginning and end of each school day.

"I believe in giving the kids something positive, try to brighten their day up because, to me, going to school in a positive frame of mind, you learn more, you get more out of it," Gater said.

Gater is a Cleveland native who has lived in the Bay Area for 30 years. He has worked primarily as a custodian in local school districts, but most recently, he spent two years as the crossing guard at the intersection of Nelson Drive and East Charleston Road. He served students from nearby Herbert Hoover Elementary and Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle schools.

"I was working at Foothill College, and I retired as a custodian. And I didn't have enough to do, so I decided I'd do this for a little bit, just to get out the house," Gater said. Being a crossing guard "gave me the chance to ... interact with the kids. ... I just take to them."

Despite his short tenure as a guard, Gater has left his mark. He greets every person who walks across his intersection, high-fiving the students and asking them how they're doing. Gater knows many of the students and their parents by name.

"He's just the sweetest guy, a jolly good guy," said Lynn Grant, a parent. Grant created retirement posters for students to sign in honor of Gater.

Gater said he enjoys his interactions with students because they're so personal and engaging.

"It's not the money. Here it's about people, you know, and what can I give back to the people to make them feel better every day," Gater said. "That to me is very important."

Gater is moving to Atlanta, Ga., with his wife at the end of the year for financial reasons and to be closer to family. But he still holds a special place in his heart for the kids he has looked after and gotten to know these last few years.

"I love these kids, I really do. I really got attached to them," Gater said. "They say I'm good for them, but they're also good for me because it's therapeutic for me. It gives me a chance to do what I do naturally, to be around people and talk. That's what I like to do."


Like this comment
Posted by Greenmeadow mom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 3, 2013 at 10:34 am

Thanks for the article about Charles- he will be missed! The intersection of Nelson and Charleston is also a school commute route for Fairmeadow students. It is the neighborhood elementary school for this area.

Like this comment
Posted by Cryin'Eyes
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Gee, I drive by this guy everyday and we wave to each other! Guess it had to happen sometime, but he will be missed,

Like this comment
Posted by Christine
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Seeing him in the morning on the way to work always made me smile. He was so kind to everyone, and had a magical way of getting cars to slow down. We will miss you!

Like this comment
Posted by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 14, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I'm so sorry to hear Mr. Gater is retiring! I work right by his intersection, so I see him often, which means that we chat often--you don't walk by without a quick, friendly conversation. It always cheers my day.

Best wishes to you in the next stage of your life. Atlanta is about to get a burst of sunshine.

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