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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: Mary Ann King

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mary Ann King works as a North Adams school crossing guard, parking enforcement officer, police matron and emergency services dispatcher.
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.

North Adams - Mary Ann King is among the most familiar of the city's downtown personas.

As the city's parking enforcement officer, she may be found walking along downtown streets and yes, King issues citations to those parked at meters displaying a red "violation" flag.

Meters must be paid Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., King said.

"I tell people 'I'm really a nice person,'" King said during an Oct. 6 interview. " But it's the job that people see."

Those who fail to know King beyond the uniform and ticket pad are missing a lot.

Many Hats

King, 50, is a city employee with a 20-year tenure. She was initially hired as a substitute school crossing guard and subsequently earned appointment as a permanent crossing guard. King is also a police department matron, which means she may be called to the police station when a female is in custody. In addition to parking enforcement duties, King is also a dispatcher for the city's emergency services dispatch center.

The many varied posts keep King in contact with nearly every segment of the city population.

"I love working with the kids," she said. "I love working for the city."

Dispatcher work is probably the most challenging, she said.

"It's always something different," she said. "You have to stay level-headed and on your toes. You have to remain in control of yourself and you have to listen. You never know what a shift is going to be like."

King is a city native. She was born Mary Ann Arabia, one of seven children in a family that included triplet sisters and twin brothers.

"My family is very large," she said with a smile. "That can happen when two [pregnancies] give you five kids."

"That's How It Was Back Then"

King and her siblings lived on Washington Avenue and she remembered the safety and neighborliness of the area during the 1960s and '70s.

"We played a lot of baseball and kickball in the streets," she said. "We rode our bikes around the block. Most of us stayed pretty close to home. That's how it was back then."

King was a member of the St. Joseph's High School Class of 1974, the final graduating class of the parochial school.

"The big thing at St. Joe was going to the basketball games," she said. "Then we'd all go to McDonald's [restaurant] and hang out afterward. I was involved with the Children of Mary and that was a nice group. We put on kind of like a winter carnival. And I was a business major at St. Joe, so I helped out a lot at the [school] office."

King is very supportive of the effort to renovate the Mohawk Theater. At the age of 15, she was hired to sell tickets at the historic downtown venue.

"Then I moved up to the candy counter and finally to an assistant manager," she said. "When Tony [long-time theater manager Tony Valotta] was off, I'd be in charge."

She has been married to Leon King Jr. for 28 years. Their wedding date? April 1.

"I married him on April Fool's Day," she said.

Family Values, Community Service

The couple's two children, Krista King, 27, and Leon King, 24, are sources of pride, she said.

During the city premiere of the movie "Gremlins," Krista King was a child. She donned a furry costume and passed out candy at the Mohawk Theater during the first city showing of the movie, King said.

Krista King now lives in New York City and works as a forensic social worker with Good Will Services, an organization that assists soon-to-be-released prison inmates.

Leon King is enlisted in the U.S. Army and is stationed in Iraq. He is expected to remain in the war-torn country for about 10 additional months, King said. He is married to Sarah [Mungeon] King and the couple have a son, three-year-old Michael.

King and her husband, and Sarah King and her parents Michael and Marcia Mungeon have been assembling and sending "care packages" to troops stationed in Iraq. The packages contain personal hygiene items, crossword puzzle books, and similar items. King said that packages are sent to troops after family members or friends contact King and ask that their loved one be part of the project.

"We've been doing it for over a year," King said. "At a going-away party for my son, people brought a lot of items that could be sent to Iraq and we started with the idea then. I think to date we've sent over 50 boxes over there."

Those interested in a care package for a member of the military stationed in Iraq may contact King at a making@adelphia.net e-mail address.

"We've received some nice responses from some of the recipients, and I've been saving them," she said. "I think that when [her grandson] gets older, they will be neat for him to read."

Family and community hold great value for King and her husband, she said.

She has served on a number of community and civic boards, including the city's Winterfest and Downtown Celebration committees. She and her husband also volunteered with the former La Festa committee and event. She was a member of the Citizens Against Child Abuse group and is a vice-president of the North Adams Employees Municipal Credit Union board of directors.

"When my children were small, we volunteered with almost everything they did," she said.

Filling Big Red Suits

She and her husband have also been frequently called upon to stand in for a certain jolly couple when "travel" from the "North Pole" proved prohibitive.

"We've [helped out Santa Claus and his wife] for about 20 years," King said.

Community endeavors often involved the King children as well, she said.

"We enjoy doing things for the community," she said. "Everything pretty much involved the four of us. We believe family is a very important part of life."

Among King's favorite hobbies is cooking, and her Christmas holiday treats, especially an elaborate, time-consuming Italian pastry, are eagerly anticipated by friends, family members, and co-workers.

"People really like it," she said of the confectionery sugar-sprinkled sweet.

"I cook up a storm," she continued. "If I'm working dispatch, I bring supper. My specialty is Italian cooking. I make my own spaghetti sauce."

A Christmas Eve open house at the couple's North Street home offers family and friends opportunity to taste King's cooking talents.

"The open house started with my [paternal] grandmother and my parents kept it going," King said. "Now I do it. People come in and say 'look at all the food.' We love doing it and I'll keep it going as long as I can. Hopefully, one of my children will keep it going after me."

She and her husband are unlikely to leave the city, King said.

"The only thing that could force us to move is employment," she said.

"I like it here," King said. "It's a small community and I feel it's a safe community. We've visited a lot of places and we are always glad to come back. I'm just not into that fast pace you see in other places."

The neighborliness King remembers from her childhood extends throughout the city, she said.

"You couldn't ask for a better community.When something happens here, everyone pulls together. People here will help you whether they know you or not. You don't find that in a lot of places."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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