Hillsboro’s Russell to end 27-year postal run on Friday

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
For the past 27 years, Teddy Russell has done his fair share to ensure the prompt delivery of mail in and around the city of Hillsboro, but all that comes to an end Friday when Russell will retire from the U.S. Postal Service when his shift is over.

“It’s been a great place to work,” he said.

At age 55, Russell retires not only as a USPS veteran but also a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army.

Russell grew up on a farm near the Maxwell Game Preserve northwest of Canton, graduated from high school in 1967 and went straight into the Army. Following active duty he remained in the reserves until December 1999.

Russell said an ad in an area paper prompted him to test for a position with the post office in 1978.

“I took the test and was second on the list in terms of points, but the person ahead of me took another job so they hired me,” he said. “It just seemed like the thing to do because you got credit for your military service on your score.”

Thus began a career that began when a first-class postage stamp cost 15 cents and ends with the cost at 37 cents.

“In those days they hired everybody as a PTF (part-time flexible) clerk carrier, so that meant you could wait the window or walk the street,” he said. “So to start with, on Tuesday I walked one side and on Thursday I walked the other side. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday I worked in the office.”

Russell said his tour of duty on the streets of Hillsboro lasted nine years before he settled on a permanent job inside the facility.

“When you come inside you become a clerk instead of a carrier,” he said. “As the post office reorganized, they changed the title of our jobs and now we’re sales and service associates.

“It sounds like we’re working at Wal-Mart,” he added with a chuckle.

A typical week for Russell is hardly typical.

“Some days we might go in at 6:30 a.m. and work until 9:30, then go home until about 1:30 and work until 5:15,” he said. “The next day we might go in at 6:30 and work until 12:30 and have the rest of the afternoon off.

“It just depends on what the workload dictates, but either way you generally end up working about 40 hours a week.”

Russell said the advent of automation produced the single most dramatic change in the duties of postal employees during his years.

“Instead of using people to do all the sorting, they have machines do it,” Russell said. “A lot of our letters now are done in Newton and they come to the carriers presorted to the route.

But Russell said advanced technology also had drawbacks.

“It eliminated a lot of jobs, too, because we can handle a lot more mail with a lot less people,” he said. “But that’s the whole idea, because that’s how they make money.”

Other changes occurred in 2001.

“With 9/11, we had to be more careful with the security of the mail,” he said. “We had to start looking for packages that are odd shaped, stained or had bogus addresses-things like that.

“But the anthrax thing actually did more to us than 9/11 because that affected us directly,” Russell said, referring to instances around the country where anthrax attacks occurred via the mail.

Computers and e-mail also produced changes for the USPS.

“In some ways, the computer and e-mail have hurt the postal service, especially in first-class mail,” Russell said. “But we gained some things too, like Ebay with their shipping.

“But honestly, I don’t think the post office could function without computers now.”

Over the years, Russell said he’s encountered many strange parcels of mail.

“I had one that was bound for Tabor College and it had air holes in it and something reached out and scratched me,” he said. “It was full of lizards.

“I could have flung that one because I really wasn’t expecting that,” he said, laughing. “We also used to get bees when Barkman Honey was going strong-the queen bee would come in the mail-and of course we get baby chicks all the time and rare birds quite often.”

During his tenure, Russell has worked for three postmasters.

“The first two were Rose Duncan and Clyde Hubbel,” he said. “Norman (Bouwie) is the third.”

Russell said the post office has endured its share of jokes and misperceptions over the years but none of it has really bothered him.

“People joke about people ‘going postal’ and shooting things up, but if you look at our record compared to other places, we’re really not bad at all. The postal service just gets all the headlines.

“But it isn’t the stress of the job that makes those people do that, it’s the fact that they’ve been laid off or fired from a job that was paying them about $20 per hour.”

That pay scale is another thing Russell said people are misinformed about when it comes to postal employees-sort of.

“People think we make a lot of money and we probably do, but we pay our fair share of taxes, so we really don’t,” he said. “People also think we get free stamps, but that doesn’t happen either.”

Russell said the USPS is a great place to work but it takes a dedicated person to perform the necessary tasks.

“It’s getting more difficult to find individuals who are willing to commit to a job with the USPS,” he said. “You have to give up a lot of family time with this job because of its hours.”

Looking back on his years of service, Russell said he has no doubt what part of his job he’ll miss the most.

“The people,” he said without hesitation. “I like waiting on the people at the counter. Sometimes we get an irate one, but most of the time, people are good.

“We really do take pride in handling the mail,” Russell said. “Customer service for the postal service is very serious business.”

The future for Russell includes more work-but as of yet, he’s just not sure what or where it will be.

“I’ve applied at a couple of places here in town and a place in Wichita, and I still have a lot of carpentry work to do that’ll last me for a while,” he said.

Russell said he and his wife, Ruth, had hoped to explore the countryside after his retirement, but their situation recently changed.

“She worked in heart hospitals across the country and we were going to travel, but now she’s going to be a grandma so she’s not too excited about leaving,” he said. “I guess that’ll take care of some of our retirement money, too.”

As his final day approaches, Russell said he’s not sure what his reaction will be when he sells that final stamp.

“I don’t think it’ll bother me too much, but just like when I left the Army after 30 years, I missed it for awhile but you find something else and you go on,” he said. “I suppose I’ll feel a bit of relief, though, because I won’t have to go back to work on Saturday morning.

“It’ll be the first Saturday in umpteen thousand years I haven’t had to work other than vacation time, but I always knew I’d be there at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.

“It’ll be nice to sleep in on Saturday mornings now.”

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