Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our post office journey on November 9, 2011

1 day. 7 post offices. $381.56 worth of stamps. 440 miles.

There is nothing like experiencing an issue firsthand and looking in the eyes of the people who are living the issue.

I had been getting e-mails and phone calls from people concerned about losing their post offices. At some point, you can't just have these conversations and not do something about it.

Kansas Sampler Foundation assistant director WenDee LaPlant and I decided to pick a road and visit all the towns on that highway that had post offices that are on the list for possible closing. We chose K-99 and several miles on either side because it had seven post offices on the list between the Oklahoma and Nebraska borders. Our plan was to visit with the postmaster and people coming in the post office and buy $50 worth of stamps at each place.

  • Chautauqua, Chautauqua County
  • Peru, Chautauqua County
  • Elk Falls, Elk County
  • Hamilton, Greenwood County
  • Admire, Lyon County
  • Summerfield, Marshall County
  • Home, Marshall County
This blog is the more social overview of each stop. The more serious observations of the post office issue will follow in the next post.

The first stop was in Chatauqua (population 98) near the Oklahoma border.

After being greeted on the sidewalk by Rudy Taylor of the Montgomery County Chronicle, one cat and two dogs, we went in to meet Emma, the postmaster. She had just finished vacuuming and was ready to start the day. We had a wonderful visit and learned the building was originally a feed store.

We bid Emma farewell and with her encouragement we stopped at The Store to meet the Chautquaua mayor, Audrey. After a short but enjoyable visit we were on our way to the Peru post office.

We got to Peru (population 160) and I went in to visit with David, the postmaster. Little did I know that after I went inside, a truck pulled up beside us and called to WenDee. It was Emma's husband! He had tracked us down. We didn't know it but Emma had thought we asked for 50 stamps so that is what she had given us. When we left, she looked at our check and saw it was for $50.40. She called her husband to come get the rest of the stamps and find us. Only in a small town...

At every post office, the role of community gathering spot was obvious as people would come and go. We learned that more than one postmaster would watch for certain people and if they didn't come in to get their mail, they would call them to make sure they were OK. Only in a small town...

Jennifer Brummel, Elk County Economic Development Director and Youth Development Coordinator, met us at the Elk Falls (population 104) post office.

When asked if the post office was going to have an entry in next weekend's Outhouse Festival, postmaster Lecia's eyes lit up. She told us the extremely clever name for their entry but it can't be revealed yet. (The festival is Nov. 18-19). We bought our stamps and Jennifer ordered some for her upcoming wedding thank you cards!

An elderly local woman came in. She was very distraught about losing the post office. She said, "This is MY place. I've been coming her since I was nine. I don't want to lose it."

Before we left town, we tracked down Steve and Jane Fry. They were at their "secret garden" house. Talk about ingenious people. We got to see the new bunkhouse upstairs in the barn. As would be expected from Steve and Jane, they have created a cozy atmosphere with the most unique use of recycled materials, ceramics, and personal touch. The 1930s concrete elephants and sculptures in the "garden" were standing proud and visible. Good to see them shine again!

On to Admire, population 176. We received a warm welcome from friends Dee Reid, Ann Birney, and Joyce Thierer. They gave us a tour of the community center which is in the school that closed at the end of the 2010 school year. The locals are also developing a nice museum in the school. I'm sure it feels like a bittersweet development to be using the school that way.

It was great to meet, Mike, the postmaster, who also made our sandwiches-to-go at the Last Chance Cafe. By the way, this post office was also a feed store at one time.

The drive through Wabaunsee County was beautiful. We admired the stone fences along the winding roads. The hardest part of our trip was driving through towns like Sedan, Howard, Madison, Olpe, Emporia, Eskridge, Alma, Westmoreland and others and not being able to stop and see things and say hi to folks.

Hamilton, population 309. Katherine, the postmaster, knew we were coming. Word had traveled down the road. While visiting about Hamilton, a local business owner came in and talked about how they choose to do business through the post office to support it but they'll find other options when the post office closes. I had to wonder if the U.S.P.S. knows how much loyalty locals have had for their post office but will choose different options if the local post office closes.

Hamilton still has their school and it's led by a dynamo superintendent. They have two restaurants, a classic soda fountain, and lots of ranchers and oil and gas business in the area. People just driving through may not always see the behind-the-scenes thrive-ability in these towns, but it's there.

Down the road...

In Wamego, we did a quick drive by the city park to see the handsome building for the mini-train. It looks terrific! Bunny and Gary McCloud responded to our "Put your stamp on it" sponsorship notice so as we drove through Wamego, Bunny met us in the turn lane along side K-99 across from the Wamego Telecommunications building. She gave us her warm smile and handed us a $100 bill to help with the stamp purchases and gas!

On to Summerfield, population 199, in Marshall County. The streets were full of cars. It looks like the community-owned grocery store continues to do well, too. And, I'm anxious to come back to see the working blacksmith shop!

We met the postmaster and bought our stamps. A local business, does a great business and everything is sent out through the post office. I don't see how it will be possible for this entrepreneur to continue shipping through the post office if the physical p.o. closes. This is another chunk of revenue the U.S.P.S. will likely lose.

Our last stop of the day was at Home. How appropriate. Home is one of the top two thriving unincorporated cities in the state (Healy is the other). We first went over to the Feed and Grain store across from the post office. It's located in an old bank and is just brimming with character. Kansas pride oozes out of owner's Jim and Pat, as does their affection for Home. They raved about the restaurant across the street opened by a young couple in town. We had a great discussion about the post office and issues of small towns.

We found Elaine and bought our stamps. It's so interesting to meet these very dedicated post office workers. Elaine also drives school bus. Joanne from the Marysville Advocate and Emily from Blue Valley Telecommunications were there, too.

This was a great prelude to our guidebook research journey that will take us to every town in the state in the next two years. From the Chautauqua springs to our last stop at Home, this was a day that reaffirms the fortitude and spirit of the Kansas people as well as the richness and multitude of explorer attractions in the state.

Chautauqua springs in Chautauqua is still flowing.
In this case, it flows into an oxidized tea pot.
Remnants of the old historic hotel can still be seen.
This is now a beautiful green space.
Look for the single arched stone bridge, too.

Get Kansas! by just picking a highway and a purpose for your trip and you'll learn alot about our state.

KE #2 Marci Penner


Rudy said...

Thanks to both Marci and WenDee for showing such solid support for these small towns and their post offices. Maybe if we all did the same, we might save a few of them.
— Rudy Taylor, Taylor Newspapers

Sue Kill said...

Thank you for the great commentary on your trip to help save the small town post offices. Get Rural Kansas!
Sue Kill, SAEDC, Sedan, KS

Susan Howell said...

Me heart goes out to all the towns facing this major change. Marci and WenDee, this story of your trip brings back many memories of those towns John and I enjoyed so much. Thank you for working to save their post offices.
Susan Howell, Kansas on the Net

Victor Lipari said...

VERY interesting saga to share, Marci and WenDee, and thanks so much for telling us your story. This is a very sad story to share but when it comes to the United States Post Office and its financial problems that they say they have, it is not surprising that they want to close these small town post offices. Unfortunately, though, the citizens and businesses of these towns lose out the most but in another way, all of us lose out in many ways!!! E-mail and other current forms of similar correspondence have lessened the demands of "snail mail" but the USPS is also at fault for wasting lots of money over the years. Finally, the day is coming when there will be NO Saturday deliveries. Not sure how this story will end but I am not optimistic on a happy ending.