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Love Notes

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Gone postal

They’rrre baaaack! After spending a few years out of the public eye, two familiar faces have reappeared at the post office---Kootenai’s, that is! And they’re not even wanted by the FBI!

Anyone who’s read my books, knows about my lifelong affinity with mail and that it’s entirely possible that my face could have appeared on post office “Wanted” posters. But these two grandmas have always operated on the right side of the law.

After spending a combined 60 years as postal employees, Jo Hawkins Robbins and Pearl Powell retired from the Sandpoint Post Office. During their retirement periods of six years and five years, respectively, the two longtime local residents caught up with family happenings and enjoyed socializing with friends---especially their pals at the Saturday morning Koffee Kult. They’ve also taken a few trips and even dabbled with their favorite hobbies.

But then, one day a few months ago, they couldn’t resist when they heard that Ruth Koehler would be retiring after serving 40 years as postmaster at Kootenai Post Office. The two friends jumped at the chance to collaborate as a team, working the Zip 83840 window as subcontractors for Tom McGhee. He rents the post office from the City of Kootenai and holds the contract for the community’s postal service. Jo and Pearl have been managing the facility since early April. After working together initially to establish consistency, they each take three days a week and remain flexible to spell each other off whenever needed.

“I’m sure that there will be times when working again will make me wonder where I went wrong,” Pearl says, “but if I’m not working, I get restless.” Jo cited boredom and her friendship with Pearl as her motive.

“When we had the opportunity there, we jumped on it, as we had talked about doing it several years ago,” says Jo, a mother of three. “ Pearl and I have known each other since Mitzi (Jo’s daughter) went to school in Hope. Pearl was the PTA president, and I was kind of intimidated because she was so sure of herself. She still is!

“We have been friends and worked together for a long time,” Jo adds. “She is rather calm, quiet and very funny---knows lots of fun phrases and poetry. What’s not to like? I am loud and noisy and like to listen to her.”

Since assuming their new duties, the two have established their policies for serving Kootenai’s more than 300 customers, maintaining the mailboxes and tending to financial considerations. They’ve also spruced up the interior of the building, located at the corner of Spokane and First Streets. The post office has been operating in the same facility as Kootenai’s City Council Chambers since 1982.

Ohio transplant Alfred Boyer established the town’s first post office in 1895 about a mile east of Kootenai’s present location. Since then, the facility has moved several times. During its history, however, the Kootenai clerks have tended to stay a while. June Fritchie Swanstrom served as postmaster for 22 years. Amy Miller replaced her in 1946 and worked until 1964, when Koehler began her four decades of service.

Jo says Ruthie Koehler is a hard act to follow.

“It was rather daunting to walk in after Ruthie worked there for 40 years,” she explains. “She amazes me that she went through three postmasters plus the acting PM’s (during interim periods), maintained her composure and just kept doing her job---a job well done. The biggest problem for us was trying to learn the box section and it still is. The customers are so kind and patient it’s unbelievable.”

In spite of feeling like their brains are a bit rusty, both women bring a wealth of experience to their new job.  Pearl began her career as a part-time worker at the Hope Post Office, next door to the home where she and her husband Ron have reared five children. She eventually moved to the Sandpoint office where her last years were spent at the front counter.

Jo, whose husband Norm served as Sandpoint’s postmaster before retiring a few years ago, got her start back in the 1960s as a substitute for her mailman, Bill Brockus, who served the Sunnyside area. After a couple of years of substituting on Saturdays and vacations, she moved into the Sandpoint office where she spent many years as a clerk at the window.

“I met some of the nicest, finest people on earth,” she says. “I was always curious as to why they moved to Sandpoint. The thing about being the window clerk is that you are often the first person they meet.”  Both women enjoy meeting people, having more control over their environment and the slower pace they’ve seen in Kootenai.

“No one, so far, has been in a great hurry or upset,” says Jo. “I like the small-community atmosphere.” Kootenai’s Post Office operates six days a week from 8 am to 4:30 pm except for the lunch period from 11:30 am to 1 pm.

As one who knows and appreciates both Jo and Pearl, I can attest to their efficiency and friendly service. In my two books, I’ve even cited cases where each has added that extra special touch while carrying out their postal duties. So, if you’re out Kootenai way, stop in, buy a stamp or two, and welcome them back.

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

Tagged as:

post office, Jo Hawkins Robbins, Pearl Powell, Ruth Koehler, Alfred Boyer, Kootenai Post Office, June Fritchie Swanstrom, Amy Miller, Kootenai

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