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Chillicothe Times-Bulletin - Chillicothe, IL
  • Gordon retires as clerk at Chillicothe post office

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  • Things have changed a lot at the Chillicothe Post Office in the last 33 years.
    When 19-year-old JoAnne Gordon began as a mail carrier July 10, 1979, one stamp was 15 cents. On Thursday when she retired as a clerk at age 53, it was 46 cents.
    Growing up in California, Gordon said she thought carrying mail would be fine with the west coast’s weather.
    Her mother, who also worked for the U.S. Postal Service, moved back to Chillicothe, and Gordon transferred her scores on the civil service exam to this area and was hired.
    In Chillicothe at that time, there were five city routes (now there are six) and three of them were walk-out routes, meaning the carriers began their routes at the post office and walked to their area. They did not have mail trucks like now.
    Instead of carriers now making a loop while delivering mail to end up back at their trucks, Gordon and others at that time had to crisscross their routes so that they ended up at the next box to pick up the next batch of mail that had been dropped off for them ahead of time.
    “You never had the opportunity to get back into the truck,” said Gordon.
    If it was supposed to rain in the afternoon, she would tie a raincoat to the box she would be at around noon. If she was thirsty, either she would use someone’s garden hose or residents on the route would offer her something to drink.
    Her first winter, though, she was in for a rude awakening.
    “I froze,” she said.
    Since she was new, she had not had time to build up enough of a uniform allowance to buy everything she needed for the harsh weather. Residents would welcome her inside to warm up, but she realized later it was worse to be cold, then warm up and then be cold again.
    During that first winter, one day she got behind in delivering mail. She was only an hour behind schedule, but with darkness setting in, her supervisor had her stop without completing her route, which would be the only time in her career she did not deliver all her mail.
    Fast forward to a few years later in the mid 1980s, she delivered mail with a windshield factor of 65 degrees below Fahrenheit. It was Dec. 24, and she had all the proper winter attire, which meant she was covered from head to toe with only a small area open for her eyes.
    She could not seem to keep her eyes open as the wind kept hitting them and making them water.
    “My husband came out to check on me, and I had little icicles on my eyelashes,” she said.
    Page 2 of 3 - She was a mail carrier for six years, then became a clerk and carried mail as needed for the next 15 years until she became a full-time clerk.
    Training to be a clerk now involves taking a two-week class, but Gordon followed around longtime clerk Ash Arnold to learn the skills needed.
    As a clerk she would report for duty between 5 and 6 a.m. depending on the day of the week and how many trips of mail would be delivered. She would help unload all the heavy mail before customers came to her window at 8:30 a.m. years ago or 9 a.m. now.
    Once her window opened, she met the public.
    “The customers here in Chillicothe are just wonderful,” said Gordon. “They are the best part of the job.”
    As residents are sending mail, she said she would feel like she knew their long-distance relatives. Some of the children who sat on the counter now are adults.
    “You really get to know your customers in a small community,” said Gordon.
    Some had some unusual requests, however.
    A customer expecting a check in the mail asked her, “Can I have tomorrow’s mail today?”
    “I’m sorry. We don’t have tomorrow’s mail yet,” Gordon said she told him.
    Along with the customers are about 18 co-workers that she will miss as well.
    Her former co-workers planned an open house for her Jan. 27 at Shore Acres Clubhouse.
    Gordon said she felt overwhelmed with 120 people wishing her well that day, including some relatives surprising her.
    There was another surprise waiting for her that day: a brick with the words: “Official mail brick, do not discard” on a table at the open house. She had not seen that brick for more than 30 years.
    She always began her day with a full mail bag at the post office when she was a carrier. She put the bag down briefly before she headed out. Bob “Beaver” Beaumont, who was one of the carriers who trained her, slipped the brick into the bottom of her bag. Beaumont relished telling others of his practical joke of her carrying a brick while delivering mail.
    The funny part now is that Beaumont is wintering in Florida and could not come to her open house. No one is fessing up to displaying the brick at the open house, or if it was the original brick Beaumont used.
    The day after her party, she received her official union postal watch at a breakfast at the post office.
    Now that she has time to do what she wants, she and her husband, Mike, plan to do more traveling. They have a trailer at an RV park near Corpus Christi, Texas. Her husband is retired from Caterpillar. They have three sons and five granddaughters she plans to see more.
    Page 3 of 3 - “When my alarm went off at 4:30 this morning that was the last time, unless I’m going to catch a plane somewhere — no more alarms,” said Gordon Thursday.
    Some have told her she is too young to retire.
    “I know how fortunate I am. I feel very, very lucky to retire at this age.”
    Her postal job proved to be a constant for her family as through the years her husband faced three strikes and two long layoffs.
    “This has been a very good job,” said Gordon. “Who would have thought at (age 19) that I would be retiring from here. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar.”
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