In an era when almost no one writes an old-fashioned letter anymore, Gary Fuller retired Wednesday as a letter carrier.
In some ways, Gary himself is old-fashioned — he's still married to his high school sweetheart, to whom he wrote letters every day when he served in the Navy.
He and JoAnn, who wed in 1965, clung together during an early family tragedy and have done so ever since. They still live in the Bellevue house they built 46 years ago.
And he took pride in arriving at work well before 6 a.m. and doing a good job for 49 years and four months — longevity that had made him the longest-serving current postal worker not only in the Omaha area but also the Central Plains district, which includes Nebraska, southwest Iowa and most of Kansas. (With his three years in the Navy, he is credited with 52 years and four months of “federal service.”)
Why did he stay so long?
“What else was I going to do?” he said. “I liked being outside. I wanted to stay busy, and the job paid the bills.”
It might seem counterintuitive in a profession whose practitioners carry pepper spray to fend off aggressive canines, but Gary loves dogs — despite a couple of attacks. He says he will miss all the furry friends on his Ralston route.
But all the tonnage he has carried over the years has taken a toll. His knees are shot, and replacement surgery ranks high on his retirement to-do list.
After decades of walking sometimes hilly routes, in recent years he obtained a “mounted” route, using a vehicle to deliver the mail.
“Without that,” Gary said, “I never would have lasted.”
Joe Marcuzzo, his retired former station manager, said Gary showed great perseverance in working such a long career.
“I made it nearly 38 years,” Joe said, “and I cannot believe he extended his career that long — especially dong what he was doing, delivering. He was always a good one to come to work, and he never let me down.”
Growing up, Gary attended eight elementary schools as his parents moved from one rental house to another. After he attended South High for more than a year, the family moved far north to 30th and Vane Streets. Gary refused to switch schools again — he took long north-south bus rides.
“I told my parents I wanted to stay,” he said, “and to finish what I had started.”
After his 1960 graduation from South, he enlisted in the Navy and saw parts of the Far East. While stationed in the Seattle area, he learned aircraft hydraulics and could have found a civilian job nearby in the aircraft industry.
But he wanted to return to Omaha and to JoAnn Markesi, the gal with whom he had exchanged hundreds of letters. He got a job at the Post Office in 1963, and they married two years later, promptly starting a family.
Their beloved first child, Kimberly, had been perfectly healthy, Gary said, but contracted meningitis — and died at 17 months.
They raised Gary Jr. and Brian but have kept the memory of “Kimmy” close to their hearts. They visit her grave at Holy Sepulchre cemetery at least monthly, Gary Sr. said, as well as on holidays.
“She's our baby,” he explained. “You hold on to every little thing you can. People who haven't gone through that experience don't know.”
He and JoAnn became even closer to each other as young parents, he said, and “wouldn't have survived” if they hadn't supported and held on to each other.
Through the years, Gary walked thousands of miles and saw the price of first-class “letter” postage rise from a nickel to today's 45 cents.
Like his colleagues, he fulfilled the unofficial postal creed: “Neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor snow nor heat of day nor dark of night shall keep this carrier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.”
But electronic media and all of our tweets, texts, posts and emails have deeply affected the volume of postal deliveries. (Some people send e-cards at Christmas.) Because of U.S. Postal Service revenue deficits, Gary lamented, Saturday mail delivery probably will be eliminated.
Computerization has made sorting of mail more efficient and faster. But in a cyberworld, the “swift completion of appointed rounds” is often referred to as mere snail mail.
Snails are no problem for mail carriers, but dogs can be.
Gary once was bitten by a German shepherd and a boxer at the same time. That drew blood and required a trip to a hospital. Another time, a pooch bit him in the stomach.
But he got to know the dogs on his routes, and they knew him.
“In a way, you can't do the job if you don't love dogs,” he said. “If I went by and didn't deliberately stop, they would whine and cry.”
His vehicle route in recent years has stretched from 85th Avenue to 94th Street, between Harrison and Jefferson Streets. His last day delivering the mail was three weeks ago, when he went on vacation ahead of his Jan. 2 retirement date.
Knee-replacement surgery will make it easier to get around, especially to the five grandchildren's athletic and other events.
He'll keep riding his Harley and will continue his photography hobby. But at 70, he won't need to rise nearly as early.
Yes, you could say that Gary Fuller — who wrote hundreds of letters as a young man and then delivered thousands even as they went out of style — put his stamp on his profession. After nearly 50 years on the job, his official retirement Wednesday was, at long last, his red-letter day.
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