(CNN) — When a crossing guard arrived at his corner last Thursday, some sort of commotion was happening. At first, he thought it was an event put on by the school, but quickly realized it was for him.
More than 100 people showed up to celebrate Alec Childress’ 80th birthday and thank him for being a positive person in their lives. Kids and parents from Wilmette, Illinois, threw a surprise party to thank him for his kindness and work.
Children who had moved on to middle school and high school came back to tell him happy birthday. One girl even came by on her way to London for college because she wanted to give Childress a hug before she left.
“It’s not like I’m a professor or a teacher or something,” Childress told CNN on Monday. “I’m just a crossing guard. For them to go out like they did to put on a huge party for me, it was mind-blowing. It was something that was hard to explain.”
Every morning and afternoon, Childress greets children and parents with positivity. He always says, “Peace, I gotcha!” to everyone who walks by. On Thursday, more than 100 yard signs read “Peace, we gotcha!” Many kids shouted “surprise!” There were cookies and gifts.
Kay McBrearty, one of the party organizers, said Childress has been a remarkable person in the lives of many people, and he is always willing to share his experiences with others.
Childress grew up on a Mississippi cotton farm. When he was 14, his father left the farm to find work up north, leaving Childress to take care of the farm, the animals and the family. As the great-grandson of a slave, he said his life taught him about responsibility and having a good attitude early on.
When his family moved North, they didn’t have enough money to send Childress to school. He started washing dishes early in the morning and found a way to pay for his schooling.
In 1969, he got a job working in construction. When he retired in 2005, he stayed retired for only 28 days before becoming a crossing guard.
“I receive something on that corner that you can’t buy,” he said. “The love that I receive on that corner? You just can’t buy it.”
Through Childress’ life, he said he never experienced the kind of love he did on his milestone birthday. He said the neighbors had nothing to gain from throwing him the party, but they showed him that love anyway, he said.
“For me to be able to experience that kind of love tells me we have more good in the world than the bad,” he said. “It reaffirms my knowledge and belief in people.”