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Army vet Mason Tucker, Kansas school crossing guard who lived to care for kids, dies at 94

A folded flag sits on a casket during ceremonial funeral training at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

Mason Tucker always seemed drawn to teaching. He had a habit of imparting lessons to children with a sly, sarcastic wit, family said. His life took him in other directions.

As a young man fresh out of high school, Tucker fought in World War II with the U.S. Army for 18 months, stationed overseas and eventually coming home with an honorable discharge and a victory medal. He then attended college for a couple years in Michigan, where he became a husband and a father to four kids. When the relationship ended in divorce, he moved to Kansas City, Kansas, and in time, found stability — he and his wife, Evelyn Jackson, were married for 50 years. He made a good living as a postman.

But after he retired, he thought about how he wanted to fill the days and the kind of work that had brought him the most gratification in life. He became a school crossing guard.

He was known as Mr. Tucker to the kids at Fairfax Elementary School in Kansas City, Kansas, diligently helping them across the street and making the most of his small daily interactions with them, his daughter, VeNetta Draper, said over the phone. He was something of a grandfather figure, she said, looking after the children as if they were family. A few affectionately called him Pa-Pa.

He cherished any opportunities that arose to pass on some of the wisdom he had accrued, Draper said. Often it had to do with the importance of school.

“If little kids would come over or be around him, the first thing he would ask them — ‘What do you enjoy in school? Do you like math?’” said Draper, 60, of Memphis. “That is what he enjoyed doing — trying to educate, or make sure that you knew certain things that were important.”

Tucker, who discovered an array of passions over his long life from teaching, to church service, to gardening, to rooting for his sacred sports teams, died on March 18, family said. He was 94.

His three-year stint with the school, located about a half-block from his house, was one of the many avocations he undertook in his retirement that bettered those around him. He was a deacon with the Stranger’s Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, instructing the younger deacons with his typical teacherly instinct. He shared fresh vegetables from his backyard with the congregation.

His garden, overflowing with green beans, cucumbers and fresh, plump tomatoes, was one of his biggest prides in life, along with his family. Every year, when the new batch of tomatoes started to come in, he gave the first ripe one to his wife Evelyn.

Tucker already had six children when they met and had been married twice, with his second wife suddenly dying when Draper — his youngest child — was only eight. He later met the woman with whom he would spend the remainder of his life, who would become a mother to his little girl.

His goddaughter, Dorothy Reed, 75, of Kansas City, said the connection was instantaneous.

“She said from the first day she met him, she knew he was gonna be her husband,” Reed said.

His life, like most, didn’t follow a straight line, living in different places as he took on new opportunities.

Born on December 22, 1927, in Haskell, Oklahoma, Tucker was one of 10 children, raised in a modest rural home. His father was a barber, Draper said, and was able to provide for the large family. Tucker enjoyed playing basketball in high school.

Reed and Draper said they never learned much about his childhood, or why he chose to serve in the military. He was likely motivated by the reason a lot of men joined the ranks, Reed said — to leave the comforts of home, and to experience something new.

His family also doesn’t know about his life before he moved to Kansas City. They do know, however, once he moved to the city, he felt it was the place where he belonged.

He and Jackson were set up through a mutual friend, as he was looking for someone to complete his family and help rear his grieving daughter.

Reed admits he could be slightly old-fashioned, but always loving and chivalrous.

“He said, ‘I’ll take care of you,’” Reed said, “but I want you to raise my daughter. And that’s what she did.”

Tucker cherished the home they made — he would tinker in his garden for hours and made sure to cut the lawn once a week, every week, no matter what. Even if he was walking his mower over not much more than dirt.

He hated air conditioning, Reed said, so he instead relaxed on his screened-in front porch in the cool evenings, striking up conversations with neighbors who walked past. They would sometimes sit next to him and stay awhile.

He hooked up a TV out there and there was a mini putting green on the porch, too. He practiced for when he played.

“And he used to play tennis,” Reed said. “There was a tennis court right across the street from his house.”

Reed didn’t see him much when she was a kid, she said, but she valued the time they got to spend together later in life. He was a big part of her from-home travel business, serving as an assistant when she was organizing big bus trips to places like Branson. He would go over the safety rules with those who signed up.

She’ll miss watching sports with her godfather, putting a nickel on who would win, or the way he would say “pitiful” whenever one of his teams — like the Royals or the Chiefs — lost. She’ll miss how he would always tell her the right to do and cite the Bible passage that proves it.

Though she never got to see him in action as a crossing guard, she can imagine him standing there with a big smile on his face, joking with the kids or surprising them with a math question.

It was a perfect job for him.

“He loved to cross the kids,” Reed said. “To this day, a lot of the parents remember taking their kids to school there, and Mr. Tucker was the crossing guard.”

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