By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer
Living by the creed “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” the men and women of the United States Postal Service are among the unsung heroes of winter.
As area schools canceled classes and several local businesses shut down during the cold snap Monday and Tuesday, those dedicated postal workers strapped on their boots, put on their gloves and headed out in the cold to get the job done.
For 21 years, Clinton postmaster Ellen Opperman has seen the ups and downs of what Mother Nature can present to postal workers in the Midwest, and only twice in her USPS career has the mail not been delivered.
“We have customers call all the time and say ‘oh don’t make them go; they shouldn’t be out there in this,’” Opperman said. “We understand; but, we have an obligation to deliver the mail.”
In taking that oath, postal workers are committed to battling extreme weather conditions to ensure the sensitive subject matter they carry with them is received by the appropriate correspondent.
For Kim Roling, veteran mail carrier, that responsibility may have been difficult to adjust to in the beginning of her career, but now after 18 “winters” with the USPS, she has seen just about everything there is to see.
“It’s such an overwhelming job when you first start and then when you’ve got weather issues on top of that, you kind of feel sorry,” Roling said. “This cold’s kind of hard but if you dress in layers and are able to stay dry it’s not so bad.”
Equipped with a set of long underwear under her USPS uniform, two pairs of socks, insulated boots, a thermal face mask and a pair of gloves made for working in freezers, Roling ventured out both Monday and Tuesday with no fear of the bitter cold temperatures that awaited her.
“You definitely needed to be prepared for it,” Roling said. “And I did see (Monday) morning where everyone was sharing their extra equipment with everyone, scarves, extra face masks, asking anybody who needed them or wanted them.”
That type of teamwork among carriers is something Opperman tries to encourage in situations like on Monday where safety is the number one concern, especially with those carriers who may not have the experience necessary to prepare for dangerous weather conditions.
Oftentimes, people learn the most when dealing with things in a hands-on approach, but for those first-time postal workers, knowing just how cold it can be is a tough thing to learn.
“My biggest fear in this cold is the new people,” Opperman said. “They just don’t know how to prepare. But (carriers) are very good about sharing whatever they need to to get everyone back safe and sound.”
Fortunately that teamwork came in handy on Monday and Tuesday, after nearly all the city’s routes were delivered on time, without any weather-related incidents.
The only routes that had to be postponed were those in rural areas of Clinton County, 37 of which were not delivered on Monday because of the weather.
Along with postal worker safety, vehicle maintenance is another priority during inclement weather for USPS officials and oftentimes that is easier said than done.
“(Monday) I can’t remember how many didn’t start but there was more started than I thought would,” Opperman said. “And I didn’t have anybody call me during the day saying that they didn’t start. But you know we try to maintain them but in conditions like (Monday) there just isn’t a lot you can do.”
Roling was one of the fortunate ones who didn’t have any trouble with her mail truck on Monday, allowing her not only to do the job she is committed to doing, but also giving her a little positive encouragement during a day that was difficult to find any.
Working day in and day out, sometimes in the worst possible weather conditions imaginable, it is those small victories that keep a postal service worker’s spirits up and makes the job a little bit easier.
“We only have a couple of handful of days, in the whole year, that are truly miserable,” Roling said. “And in those situations you just have to force yourself to stay positive. You’re going to get to the end.”