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New York Mills postmaster, 'Buzzer,' retires after 42 years

Duane "Buzzer" Koehler is retiring as postmaster of New York Mills. An open house will be held for him July 30. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

After 42 years as postmaster of the New York Mills Post Office, Duane "Buzzer" Koehler will retire on July 31, at the age of 72.

Back in 1969, when the cost of a stamp was 6 cents, Koehler was hired to cover two-hour Saturday shifts at the post office. Just a few years later, in 1973, he was appointed to postmaster after the former postmaster retired.

The interview process the post office system had in the '70s called for postmaster candidates to travel to Fort Snelling to be interviewed by eight to 10 businessmen and women from across the nation. Nine months later, a letter would arrive in the mail stating whether or not they were promoted to the position.

Throughout the whole process, Koehler acted as postmaster, with all the responsibilities of running the office. It was the end of 1972 when Koehler made the trip to Fort Snelling, and September 19, 1973 when he received his letter.

That interview process has long since changed, as has almost everything else Koehler remembers about the post office back then.

When Koehler began, mail was hand sorted; with today's automated system, postmasters hardly even touch the mail. Even basic things have changed, like the fact that stamps were something a person had to lick before they would adhere in the upper right corner.

Koehler said he's licked so many stamps that, "If glue is made of horses' hooves, I ate more than a horse in my life."

As postmaster, Koehler has run an efficient ship, and prides himself on never once being investigated by a postal inspector or having any grievances filed against him by employees.

"I have been blessed with excellent employees all these years," Koehler said.

As he leaves his postal career behind, he will miss the people the most. Especially the kids who jumped up and down saying his name, trying to peek at him over the counter when parents came in to buy stamps.

There was a time when he knew every person in town and where they lived. Now, Koehler said, the population, especially on the outskirts of town, have grown so much that he can't really keep track anymore.

Though he will spend a lot more time hunting and fishing after his final 6 a.m. shift on July 31, he plans on obtaining his realtor's license so he can "keep busy," he said.

An open house is planned at the post office on July 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. The public is welcome to stop in for coffee and cookies.

Though postal clerk Julie Gerber will run the office for a few months, the postmaster position will be advertised nation-wide.