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Jean Gilmore was one of the longest-tenured crossing guards in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. For 31 years, she safely guided several generations of families across busy streets.

And through two bouts of breast cancer, she refused to call in sick.

“I have to keep doing this,” her husband, James, said she told her family. “It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”

But the chemotherapy took its toll on Gilmore. She died of heart failure Sunday at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. She was 68.

“She had a joyful laugh and a great personality,” said her daughter Jacquelyn Boyer, of Minnetrista. “She was happy with the children, and they were happy with her. She definitely loved it.”

Gilmore was born in Anoka and raised on a dairy farm in Rogers. She and her five siblings worked long hours on the farm, which today is the site of a Lutheran church and a housing development.

She ran track at Elk River High School, then went to work at an elderly care home and the former Dayton’s distribution warehouse. She met James Gilmore on a blind date in 1972, and he proposed within a couple of months.

Once her second daughter started kindergarten, she became a crossing guard. The paid position was perfect for her schedule, allowing her to be home with her children in the morning and when they returned from school.

Gilmore worked crossings near Eisenhower Elementary and Northdale Middle schools in Coon Rapids and Blaine High School before retiring three years ago. Today the school district has 55 crossing and traffic guards.

Even with Minnesota’s extreme seasons, said Jeff Mueller, the district’s transportation safety coordinator, Gilmore was always at the crossings and ready to serve the students.

“Jean was an example, trainer and mentor to many of the crossing and traffic control staff in the district,” he said. “With her contagious smile and professional manner with students, staff and motorists, Jean served as a positive and respected representative of the Anoka-Hennepin School District for many years.”

When it was bitterly cold, Gilmore’s daughters would call her to make sure she was OK, and students would bring hot chocolate. She always had a kind word for them, said her daughter Jennifer Wilmot, of St. Michael.

“Some students who went to different high schools would invite her to graduation parties,” Wilmot said. “And moms would bring their kids to the crossing and recognize her. My mom loved that.”

When Wilmot was college age, she recalled watching her mother at work and was amazed that she seemed to know every student’s first name. She and her sister were proud of the fact that their mom was a crossing guard and joined the school patrol themselves.

Gilmore enjoyed card stamping and “sent cards out for everything,” Boyer said. She collected angel figurines and walked up to 10 miles before and after work each day. The family participated in the annual Race for the Cure to battle breast cancer for nearly a decade.

Besides her husband of 46 years and daughters, Gilmore is survived by sisters, Marie Backmann, of El Mirage, Ariz., Diane Kemmetmueller, of Dayton, and Gisele Totman, of Buffalo, Minn.; and a brother, Robert Greeninger, of Eden Prairie.

The family said that colorful attire will be welcome at a celebration of Gilmore’s life at 11 a.m. Thursday at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Home, 1827 Coon Rapids Blvd., Coon Rapids. There will be visitation one hour before the service.

“She didn’t want people coming in dark, drab clothes, being sad,” Boyer said. “She wanted the service to be uplifting. That’s how she lived her life.”