Photo by Joe Boyle
Mary Ann Anifer holds her bouquet of roses as Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough presents her with a Certificate of Meritorious Service for serving 59 years as an election judge. Anifer has also served the past 10 years as a crossing guard at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills.
By Joe Boyle
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough wanted to have a party for Mary Ann Anifer to recognize her 59 years as an election judge.
However, when Yarbrough approached Anifer with the idea, she was surprised at her response.
"She said no," Yarbrough said with a laugh. "She told me that she had to go to work and watch and take care of the kids."
Besides serving over the years as an election judge in Hickory Hills, Orland Park and the Green Hills Library in Palos Hills, Anifer has been a constant fixture at Conrady Junior High School, 7950 W. 97th St., Hickory Hills, as a crossing guard. She has held that position for the last 10 years.
"I'm just so happy to do this," said Anifer, 77, who has lived in Palos Hills for 39 years. "I love all the people and all the kids. Many of them have come back later to see me."
And Anifer also loves her role as an election judge. She became an election judge in Chicago when she was 18 years old, back in 1961 when John F. Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States.
She said the job has changed a lot since then.
"When I first started, we had to pull down the bars (when voting)," she recalled. "We also often had to stay up all night to count all the votes."
Modern technology has made the process more efficient for election judges, she said. But the modern conveniences have not changed the overall role of an election judge, she said. Well, except for Nov. 3, 2020.
"Oh, this year was really something," said Anifer, who grew up in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood. "We had so many people voting. I've never seen anything like it."
But what Anifer enjoys about being an election judge is the interactions with residents who arrive to cast their ballots.
"I feel like I'm helping people," said Anifer. "If I'm not there, maybe someone else won't be here either. I want to make sure that every person who wants to vote has that opportunity. No, I don't think that much is different. But I really enjoy it. I have met so many people down the road. It's really gratifying and it's very heartwarming."
And her dedication to both jobs has been duly noted by parents, students and school officials. She said it is a pleasure to converse with the students and their parents. Nothing can stop her from her duties as a crossing guard.
The lone exception was when she was struck by a passing vehicle back in 2018 that resulted in six months of rehabilitation. But the optimistic Anifer even shrugged off that incident.
"It wasn't really that bad," she said. "I was out just a few months. I'm back and I'm never going to leave.""
Yarbrough learned firsthand how much Anifer loves her jobs. When Anifer said she could not attend a party that Yarbrough was planning in her honor at her downtown office, the Cook County Clerk decided that she was going to come to her crossing guard post during the morning of Dec. 16 to honor her.
"My goodness, I really think a lot of her," Yarbrough said. "We are really fortunate to have her. She just has to be with her kids. People like her make this a better world. Everyone needs to know someone like Mary Ann."
Yarbrough became aware of Anifer's dedication while she was working early voting in Orland Park. Yarbrough presented Anifer with a bouquet of roses and a Certificate of Meritorious Service for her decades of service as an election judge.
"I think it is important to send a message out there that there are people like Mary Ann," Yarbrough added. There is nobody I have met who has done it 59 years."
Anifer's niece, Tinley Park resident Maria Sanchez, was also on hand to observe the ceremony. She also said that Anifer is someone very special.
"She is a great person," Sanchez said. She is always there for everyone. This means a lot to her. She doesn't like a lot of attention. It's nice that everyone is out here for her. She truly, truly puts the kids first."
As for Anifer, who is single, she has no plans to retire, either as an election judge or a crossing guard.
"I just want to do this (these jobs) forever, if they would let me."