Rural post offices are identityJamie Glass of Herbster was checking his post office box when the postmaster told him the office could be closed. “‘Why?’” he asked.
By: By Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Jamie Glass of Herbster was checking his post office box when the postmaster told him the office could be closed.
“‘Why?’” he asked.
Glass has the distinction of renting post office box No. 1 in Herbster.
“So we’ve been using this post office for quite a while now, for a couple of three generations,” Glass said. “It’s worse for my father because he’s retired and disabled. So having this close by, he doesn’t last very long in a car or on his feet before he has to rest anyways.”
Babcock, Beetown, Nelsonville, Hawthorne, Herbster — they’re among the hundreds of Wisconsin villages and unincorporated towns that share the rural lifestyle. They also are among the 41 Wisconsin post offices on the Postal Service’s potential closure list. And the people see that as a threat to small town life.
Many of Herbster’s 104 people are retired and don’t use computers to pay their bills or send e-mail. Rita Dehn is one of them. She’s upset at the possibility of losing her post office.
“I was shocked. I really was,” Dehn said. “I mean I was really surprised. I don’t see how you could close it. I mean if the Post Office got a problem, but gee, why take it out on the people? You know I get my medicine in the mail. In the winter time you have to go all that distance just to get your mail. How come they want to close Herbster?”
The 2010 U.S. Census shows rural America makes up just 16 percent of the population, the lowest percentage ever. Just 20 years ago, 25 percent of people hailed from small towns. Pete Schenck runs the area’s ambulance service. He thinks if they take away the post office, they’ll take away Herbster’s identity.
“We’re starting to see some vitality. We’re starting to see some hope for the future. And now it’s gone. You remove 54844, we’re gone from the map,” Schenck said.
Congressman Sean Duffy, R-Ashland, says the closing list should be returned to sender. With many of the offices in rural areas like his northern district, he says they shouldn’t be closed.
“For me, I have been aggressively advocating for our post offices,” Duffy said. “If you’ve been a member of a small community, you know that often times your identity is tied up within your post office. You may not have a police force but you do have your post office.”
Duffy says several members of Congress are getting behind bills that would send the closing list to the dead letter office.
Herbster Town Clerk Sheryl Isaksson sees it the same way — the post office can be the heart of a community, and losing it would be difficult for Herbster.
“It would go away. It would totally go away,” she said.
Herbster Town Supervisor Jane Bucy thinks closing rural branches could mean the end to many small towns.
“Oh, it’s the life of the community,” Bucy said. “We get a lot of elderly people here who are dependent upon it for medicines and things. They don’t get around very easily. Packages. I mean, it’s just the life of the community.”
Eight miles east on Highway 13 is the Lake Superior community of Cornucopia, population 98. It has Wisconsin’s northernmost post office. Resident Maggie Doetkett is glad their post office is not on the list.
“Coming to the Post Office, it’s usually ten, fifteen minutes of ‘Hi, how are you? How are the grand kids? How is the dog?’” Doetkett said. “Oh I hope Corny is never on that list. I mean living north of Highway 8, we really depend on a postal service.”
Just being on the list doesn’t mean a post office will be closed. Postal Service spokesman Pete Nowacki says a more definitive list will be released in September, followed by a 60-day comment period where townsfolk can make their case about isolation and identity.
“That’s the type of information that we want brought to us as we start this public contact process,” Nowacki said. “At this point, it’s a bit of a one size fits all. We’ve identified these offices based on certain numbers and certain factors, and now we start taking a look at what makes each one unique and what makes each situation different from another.”
Nowacki says even if a post office is closed, the zip code and town will remain on the mailing address. But Cornucopia’s Postmaster Chris Figge, who’s held that job there since 1974, says for rural towns, that’s not the point.
“I feel sorry for Herbster. I feel sorry for anybody that’s getting a cut and losing their post office. If it’s anything like Cornucopia’s Post Office, we always joke in here if there’s a line in here, everybody says ‘get a camera,’ there’s a line in the Cornucopia Post Office. And who brought coffee and who’s bringing the rolls.”