By John Burton
RED BANK – Who needs a calendar when you have Carl Colmorgen?
Colmorgen, a crossing guard on Broad Street, lets his choice of headgear and other fashion items keep school kids and pedestrians alike smiling and pretty well-informed about the time of year.
“I started doing it for the kids. I thought they would like it,” said Colmorgen of his choice of hats. “Then people passing by, driving by, started stopping and taking a picture with their cellphones and commenting on them.”
Colmorgen spends part of his school-day mornings and afternoons at the Broad Street/Harding Road/Reckless Place intersection helping students – mostly from St. James Elementary School and the public middle school – cross the busy streets.
To liven the day and allow for a few smiles, Colmorgen has been wearing selections from an ever increasing fun collection of hats and accessories that definitely won’t match anyone’s idea of a traditional crossing guard’s uniform.
The first unusual accessory he donned – not too long after he began working as a crossing guard about seven years ago – was of a cooked turkey perched on his head to announce the coming of – what else? – Thanksgiving.
“I thought it would be fun,” Colmorgen said, “and then I became obsessed.”
“Then I thought about Christmas and it snowballed from there,” he said, noting his collection has grown to about 50 different hats.
For Christmas he has a variety from which to choose, including elf, Santa and Christmas tree hats. For Valentine’s Day he wears a shirt and hat with big red hearts on them.
“You should see me for Paint the Town Pink,” he dared, referring to the annual breast cancer awareness campaign, telling how he is clad head-to-toe in pink, including pink medical scrubs.
Even the less well-known Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19, in case you didn’t know) warranted its own recognition, with Colmorgen wearing a pirate’s hat. When it gets close to Super Bowl time, he’ll wear a football on his head.
Colmorgen, 72, was born and raised here, but lived for many years in Southern Florida where he owned and operated a golf shop. A few years ago he sold the business and returned to his hometown to retire, moving back to the family home on Oakland Street.
For the last seven years he’s worked as a crossing guard. “It’s really a nice little job for a retired person,” he noted. He also volunteers as a Little League umpire and for the borough’s municipal court on Thursday mornings where he enjoys the interaction with the community, he said.
People passing by regularly tell him, “You put a smile on my face today,” he said.
“If I think it I can make someone smile, that’s OK,” he said.
Last Friday, even though it was unseasonably warm with temperatures in the 80s, Colmorgen wore his traditional topping for autumn: a black top hat decorated with brightly colored fall flowers.
“I like the festivity and personality of it,” said Little Silver resident Victoria Ovanesian, who gave the hat a once over as she crossed Broad Street pushing a stroller with her infant child.
“His hats are always funny,” said Alexia Kelly, 10-year-old middle school student.
“It looks unique,” added Alexia’s friend, Allison Pendell, who is also 10.
Colmorgen’s favorite, he said, was in honor of Earth Day from a mother and child who attends the charter school. He got it when he mentioned he needed something for the annual celebration of the environment. It was a brown straw hat with artificial flowers around the crown and colorful faux butterflies hovering about the flowers.
In August, the borough’s public library put a collection of Colmorgen’s hats – with the encouragement of Colmorgen’s sister, Kathy Colmorgen, a longtime library volunteer – on display in a cases by the entrance and by the children’s room.
“It was a real fun thing to have them here,” with many kids and adults stopping to take a look, said Virginia Papandrea, the library director. “A lot of the kids and adults who went by it were already familiar with them and him.”
One time a woman drove by, seeing Colmorgen out at his post in one of his getups and yelled out he was a “certified nutcase,” he remembered. “I wanted to know what her qualifications were to have me certified.”
There’s no end in sight of the merriment Colmorgen can bring as he continues to increase his collection, always picking up another hat or something fun at the Christmas Tree Store.
“I’ll continue to do it until somebody says I can’t,” he said. “I don’t think that will happen given I’ve been doing this so long now.”
And now, what will he wear for Halloween?