SHADY HILLS — Mary Grau couldn’t help but be intrigued in 1995 when she heard about the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office’s plans to open Safety Town, a miniature faux community where schoolchildren from across the county could come to learn about seatbelt, bicycle, water and animal safety, among many other injury-avoiding lessons.
“I was interested in teaching safety,” Grau said. “I always worried about my own kids.”
So Grau and her husband, Walter — retirees from Philadelphia — signed up to be part of Safety Town’s first crew of volunteers.
Eighteen years passed and Grau kept coming — even after Walter died in 2000 — until she was the only volunteer left from that original cohort.
“She has been so faithful and always has a smile,” said Capt. Brian Moyer, president of the Safety Town board of directors. “It’s hard to imagine the number of children’s lives she has touched.”
Grau, 84, is about to put Safety Town behind her. She is moving to Flagler County to live with family, so on Tuesday, Safety Town honored its last remaining original volunteer with a short slide show, refreshments and words of praise.
“We are sorry to see her go,” said Cpl. Creg Bell, the sheriff’s deputy who oversees Safety Town. He estimated that Grau has helped educate more than 100,000 children.
Safety Town bills itself as a child-sized town, with paved streets, working traffic signals, miniature buildings and a railroad crossing. Lessons are aimed at children in kindergarten through second grade.
Volunteers teach the students about numerous safety-related subjects, such as 911 calls; stop, drop and roll techniques; stranger danger; and school bus safety.
Safety Town, which is off State Road 52 near Hays Road, usually has about 25 volunteers and is always looking for more, Bell said.
Volunteer instructors, such as Grau, work with the children who visit on field trips. Another group, called volunteer crew leaders, helps Bell keep the place running.
“Safety Town would not exist if not for our volunteers,” Moyer said.
Grau said during those first few years of volunteering, her husband always drove when they made the trip to Safety Town. After he died, she said she “depended on the kindness of other drivers to bring me.”
She recommends that others give volunteering at Safety Town a try.
“I think it’s wonderful,”Grau said.