Wednesday, July 2, 2014

In Ketchum, a changing of the guard

Post Office employees Karen Davis and Eileen West prepare to retire


By AMY BUSEK
Express Staff Writer

Longtime Ketchum Post Office employees Karen Davis, left, and Eileen West take a break from sorting letters last week. Both women are preparing to retire on July 31. Photo by Roland Lane

It’s the end of an era at the Ketchum Post Office, as two of its longtime employees are set to retire July 31.
In a city as small as Ketchum, residents often have a close bond with Postal Service employees. Postal workers don’t just sort mail and scan packages—they watch people move away, newcomers arrive, kids grow up and people pass away. In fact, to get a good temperature check of any small town, it’d be wise to ask those who handle the mail.
Karen Davis and Eileen West have been at the Ketchum Post Office for about two decades. In that time, they’ve transitioned from a rudimentary to a digitalized system and seen the town change around them. Their friendship is obvious—when Davis asked West what day she would retire, West answered, “Same day you are.”
    Both women have a little trepidation about retiring. West’s daughter caught her crying the other day as she contemplated her decision.  
    “You have to redefine who you are,” West said. “First you’re a mom for 20-something years, then you have your career for 20-something years, then all of a sudden that goes away. Now you have to figure out: Who am I?”
    So far, all West knows for sure is that she’ll have more time for exercise.
    Davis, on the other hand, knows exactly what she’s doing. Her husband Lee—they just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary—is also retiring July 31. They plan to buy a new truck and RV and hit the road to travel.
    “I look at it like, I’ve just graduated from high school and my life is ahead of me,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to my new life. I’m literally going to grow old together with my best friend.”
    Davis says the only road trip plans are to stay away from cold weather and fulfill one of her dreams: to see the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
    “Help Wanted” signs are posted in the Ketchum Post Office, and the two veteran postal workers warn that the job isn’t easy. You need to pass a background check and get special training, based on where you’re positioned in the office. Working at the front desk has a unique set of challenges, the women said.
    “It’s a very physical, taxing job,” West said. “Both of us are in our mid-60s and we’ve realized—at least I have—that you can only do so much.”
    When both the women started in the 1990s, there was no digitalized scanning of packages.
    “Life was so much simpler then,” Eileen said. “It puts a lot of pressure on you because every package has to get scanned.”
    The old system, however, did have its boondoggles. Money orders had to be carefully collated back then and mistakes meant a pay cut for employees.
    “You would move the numbers to write down how much the money order was for, then you would crank it and imprint on it,” West said. “So if you made a mistake, you couldn’t go back and undo that, like you can [now].”
    Davis and West remember a male employee who, several years ago, accidently printed a money order for $500 dollars instead of $50. The order was cashed and the employee had a $450 deduction from his paycheck.
    Despite modern changes, like the Postal Service’s new partnership with UPS and Fed-Ex, both women are confident in the lasting power of the community post office.
    “The post office is something that’s ingrained in somebody’s history,” West said. “If you were to take that whole system away, it would affect people more than they realize.”
    Davis said that emails and texts are no substitute for the classic letter.  
    “An email or a text, you can’t put that in your drawer and pull it out and say, ‘Look what they sent me,’” she said.
    Their supervisor, Postmaster John McDonald, said Davis and West have been indispensable.  
    “The Ketchum office has always functioned very well, thanks to them,” he said. “We hope that’ll continue with new employees.”
    There are simple pleasures to the job that both women will miss. Davis likes waving to kids picking up their mail and delights in their surprise when a voice speaks to them from the small metal box.
    “The customers are going to see new faces,” West said. “I think it’s as hard on the customers as it is on us.”




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