Column: Cahuilla woman tends school playground
"Lolly Ortega must have spent more years supervising kids on a school playground than anyone in the region. I will be surprised if anyone can top her.

Ortega is a diminutive, lively, 59-year-old woman. In the mid- 1970s, she had trouble saying farewell when her eldest daughter, Lori Ortega, entered Whittier Elementary School in Hemet, so she stayed. She began volunteering to watch kids on the school's playground. She did such a good job that Bob Goodrow, Whittier's principal, hired her as a playground supervisor in 1976.

She returned year after year, never missing a day for being sick. She loved the playground work and never considered looking for another job, not even following Whittier graduates to middle school. "They are bigger than me," she said.

Now, 33 years later, she still oversees children before school, from 7 to 8 a.m. She returns for a 10:45 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. stint to sort out tetherball disputes, mediate spats between kids and accept an endless series of hugs from kids who follow her everywhere. "I just love the children. They taught me so much," she said. "They have their little issues. I talk to them to sort them out."

As she spoke, she attentively watched kids play tetherball and basketball. Children mobbed her, thrusting their yearbooks into her hands for her all-important signature. Teachers walking by to class waved and shouted their usual morning greetings."

Get the Story:
Bob Pratte: Playground offers memories (The Riverside Press-Enterprise 6/10)