Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 27, 2020

Wayne in our world!

Wayne Goff, our daily rural mail carrier for the past 23 years, retired last week. But local community members along his route didn't want him to slip into his easy chair without first honoring him for his faithful and friendly service. So on his last day, hundreds of colored ribbons and even a few purple bows and balloons greeted him at mailbox after mailbox. Despite postal regulations to the contrary, some even had goodies and well-wishes tucked inside.

It was a community effort that began with Keats resident Phyllis Walters.

"I was out walking one day, and as I was going by people's mailboxes, I thought it would be neat to put ribbons on them," she said.

Phyllis and neighbors Mary Cay Stauffer and Jeanette Campbell then got together to hatch their plan.

"A lot of us were wondering what to do for Wayne," Jeanette said. "A potluck dinner would have been nice, but we couldn't do any kind of get-together like that [because of COVID-19]," she said.

So the three bought and cut colored ribbons and affixed stickers to them with a message thanking Wayne for his years of "fantastic service." They stuffed envelopes with the notes, ribbons and extra stickers, and asked others to help deliver them to people's doorsteps. The notes suggested attaching the ribbons to their mailboxes on Thursday, Nov. 19, Wayne's last day.

Wayne always went the extra mile for his customers. In my column, "Messenger of Sympathy and Love ...,� I mentioned I was relying on Wayne even more than usual because of "social distancing." When husband Art and I went to Wisconsin or were traveling in Europe, he always neatly organized our mail into piles held together by rubber bands - magazines, newspapers, bills and personal mail all sorted into separate groups. That made it a breeze to go through when we returned.

Our mail was always standing inside the mailbox, too. He said he has tried to train carriers to put the mail upright, but some appear to just throw it in. "It looks like a bomb went off in some of them," he said.

He learned from years of experience which mailboxes didn't close quite right - probably due to snowplows coming along and knocking the mailbox posts.

Wayne's official start date with the United States Postal Service was Nov. 24, 1984 as a substitute carrier. Another sub had told him about an opening, so he did it for one day a week while continuing to farm.

"I would get up at 4:30 a.m. to milk cows, do my route and then come home in the late afternoon to milk the cows again," he said. "As my job grew, my farming diminished."

His route covered 74 miles and he had 476 customers, many of whom he has known for years. Often he knew when something was wrong. He referred road problems, such as potholes, to the township board, and reported suspicious activity to the police.

"I knew when things didn't look quite right," Wayne said. "I knew who cattle belonged to and would call the owners to let them know if they got outside their fences."

He also noticed one time when some customers' horses were in their front yard. He got a feed bucket, led the horses to their pen and closed the gate. He later learned the owners were in France and the person they had asked to look after the animals hadn't shut the gate tight enough.

On another occasion, he noticed a woman hadn't picked up her mail for a few days, so he called her son. In that instance, she was out of town and hadn't arranged for anyone to collect it.

Friend Kay, another of Wayne's customers, said, "Home mail delivery feels akin to civil defense or Meals on Wheels or a night watchman. They would know if something feels amiss."

Wayne received a "Million Mile Award" in August 2020 for having driven his route for 30 years without an accident. He saw a lot of deer, raccoons, possums and black snakes on the road, but fortunately didn�t hit any of them when he was on his route. He also saw a young elk on Wildcat Creek Road.

Icy roads in the winter concerned him, "But I thought, 'If everyone else stays home, I'll be fine.'"

A downpour was a challenge, too. "You can't wait for the rain to stop if you have to deliver a package to a doorstep."

Wayne said the most unusual thing he encountered was when he opened the mailbox that belonged to a veterinary clinic, only to be greeted by a ferret! He figured someone was tired of it and thought people in the clinic would know what to do with it.

He typically drove 30 miles per hour or two minutes per mile, giving him about 20 seconds per mailbox. But the route took a bit longer on his last day, as he had to untie those hundreds of ribbons wishing him well. The people waiting at home to celebrate had to be patient as he didn't arrive until 8 p.m.

The week before Wayne retired, Art and I chatted with him briefly. He said he wasn't really going to settle into that easy chair as he was going to continue farming with his son. He also ran for treasurer of the Wildcat Township board in this month's election. He hasn't been officially notified if he won, but he ran unopposed. So it's likely in January 2021 he'll transition from informing county officials about potholes to paying for them.

(A more formal version of this column will appear in The Riley Countian newspaper next week.)

Left: Goff placing mail in our mailbox; top-right: some opted to place bows on their mailboxes; bottom-right: the note at the end of the ribbon said, "Thank you, Wayne, for your years of fantastic service to our community. We appreciate all you have done for us. HAPPY RETIREMENT !!"

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