Long-time local postmaster, Denice Phillips-Kunze, retires after 32 years
Thirty-two years ago, Denice Phillips-Kunze would strap on a mail satchel full of letters, then pile the circulars on top of the bag and trudge 12 miles through her mail route.
"The bag was as big as me," the diminutive woman laughed. "I was young."
Phillips-Kunze retires as Park Rapids' postmaster at the end of this month. She was offered an early buyout during the service's massive reorganization, so she decided to take it.
She is only one year from retiring the old-fashioned way, by aging.
She looks much younger.
"I don't know what I'll do with the second half of my life," she laughs, admitting that customers are shocked that she's even close to retirement age.
She's been commuting from Perham, where the majority of her postal career was served. She was Perham's postmaster when she was recruited to come to Park Rapids in April 2007. Before that she held positions as a carrier, clerk and then postmaster in that city.
"It was a step up," she said of the transfer to Park Rapids.
Today, if she was lugging that satchel around, it would weigh one-fourth what it did then, she estimates.
"People don't write letters anymore," she said. "It's sad. Birthday cards are all electronic and Facebook."
Phillips-Kunze is leaving a beleaguered business battered by politics and trying to stave off bankruptcy.
The U.S. Postal Service lost $3.2 billion in the second quarter of this year and reported it is unable to make a $5.5 billion payment Aug. 1 for its retiree health account for 2011.
Another $5.5 billion payment is due Sept. 30 to cover 2012 retiree accounts.
Computers transmit much of today's communications.
Packages are now being sent via UPS and Federal Express.
"E-mails and electronics" have overshadowed the post office's raison d'etre, she acknowledged.
Phillips-Kunze retires while a "defined benefit" level is still in place, one that gives out pension and medical benefits to all retirees.
She's leaving the politics behind, but admits to pressures as a postmaster.
Electronics have diminished the support system postmasters used to have by personally meeting and discussing issues.
"We don't meet with our peers to get the support we used to," she said, "Everything is handled electronically."
She's looking forward to gardening, reading, walking and swimming. Her youngest child is almost out of college, and she has four grandchildren she'll see more of now.
She briefly thought of a landscaping career after a lifetime of hard work spent as a Certified Nurse's Assistant, working at a Tasty Freeze, at the Barrel of Fun factory and in the U.S. Postal Service.
"My dad had a really strong work ethic," said the eldest of six kids. "If you were 12, you could work."
But landscaping may have to be a hobby, not a vocation. She said she doubts she can still do the heavy lifting required.
A temporary officer will be put in charge of the Park Rapids office until the position is filled, likely by October.
Even the hiring process is done online, she said.
So the lucky candidate won't be getting a card in the mail informing her or him they got the job or delivered by postal carrier.