SWANSEA, Mass. (WPRI) ─ The smiles are in the students’ eyes peering over their masks and through the bus windows.
And you can hear the joy in the voices of their parents.
“Mr. Gus,” one woman says with a smile as she drives by. “Good Morning!”
He waves back with the hand that is not holding his sign for the day.
“Good morning,” he replies. “Have a great day.”
Walter Allan Gustafson, better known as “Mr. Gus,” started volunteering at Swansea’s Brown School about eight years ago after his wife of 56 years passed away.
“It gave me a purpose to get up in the morning,” the 84-year-old said. “As a retiree, you got to have something. Number one, it’s just being with young children and seeing them develop through the year.”
It also gave the Somerset resident a front-row peak at his own child, Ann Walsh, who teaches at the school.
“She’s been doing this for 20 years and I’d never been in the classroom to see what she does,” he said. “Not many people get that opportunity. For a volunteer, that was a good payment. Not to brag, but she’s really good at it.”
COVID-19 kept Mr. Gus home last spring. Then Swansea’s hybrid school model this school year did not include volunteers.
“I knew I couldn’t go in. They have enough to worry about,” Mr. Gus said. “But I wanted to help somehow.”
So he worked with his daughter to create a variety of colorful greetings, and with approval from the principal the volunteer who loved helping teachers and students in the building went to work in front of it.
One mom driving her children to school on a recent morning said his effort and attitude, “makes us smile.”
“It’s important,” she said. “These times are really scary for kids and it just makes them really comfortable to come to school.”
Everyone from Swansea to Westerly and around the region and world can’t wait until the pandemic is just a lesson in history class.
But for now, Mr. Gus’s morning greetings might be proof some of what kids were used to in school is not going anywhere, not even when winter comes.
“I’ll just dress warmer,” he said. “I’ll be there as long as I can get up and walk.”