August 01, 2012 - Lakeville bid farewell to its postmaster July 31.
Lakeville Postmaster Ruth Yerkes (right) and one of her longtime customers, Lakeville resident Paula DíAmbrosio. Photo by Lance Farrell. (click for larger version)
Ruth Yerkes, after 26 years with the United States Postal Service (USPS), said goodbye to her patrons and Post Office in a small cake & coffee gathering as she tied a bow on her time as a USPS employee.
Yerkes began with the USPS back in the late 1990s, starting at a mail processing plant in Detroit. After nine years, she transferred to Lake Orion for another seven years before settling in as Lakeville's Postmaster for these last seven years.
August 1 was a day of celebration, then, for Yerkes. Not only does Yerkes reach retirement, she also cheers her 20th wedding anniversary and the birthday of Lil' Rita, her beloved pup.
After that, Yerkes plans to spend a little time "chilling out" up north, but will continue her community involvement in Addison Twp. when she gets back. She's worked with "Friends of the Library" in times past, so she expects to return to more volunteer work.
In days now gone by, she would have had to rush back, but now she can take her time before turning to the forgotten projects back at her home. "Unfortunately I have a lot of years of stuff at my house that I've neglected . . . so I plan on doing a lot . . . around the house," Yerkes said.
As she thought back on her time with the USPS, she reminisced about highlights in her postal career, some scary, some funny. Just this year, she recalled, "I was waiting on somebody, and all of a sudden 'Kaboom!!'-- the whole building shook. The first thing I thought was that a bomb went off. And then I realized: someone just drove through the building."
She can laugh about it now, but it was pretty scary at the time, she said, and for a good while after she would cringe whenever anyone drove up to the building, she admitted.
A less stressful time she remembered was when "someone tried to mail a kitty-cat, (via) express mail. It arrived at the office and we heard it." People are not supposed to send domestic animals through the mail.
Yerkes continued, "We're not allowed to open mail, but being that there was an animal . . . being shipped, we did open it and I took it home that night," she reflected with a laugh.
Otherwise, she said, "everything's been pretty laidback here in Lakeville."
Lakeville does not have a replacement Postmaster yet, though Yerkes has been training someone to temporarily stand in for her when she leaves.
According to Edward Moore, USPS Manager of Communication for the Detroit district, "there will be several officers in charge that will be assigned to (Lakeville). Ultimately, he continued, "we're looking at reducing that particular office to a four-hour-a-day post office."
The USPS will hold a community meeting to determine which four hours will best meet the needs of Lakeville area-residents. No meeting time has been scheduled, and regular hours will continue until the USPS confers with residents.
Yerkes' retirement and the reduction of services and hours at Lakeville is part of a larger pattern across the nation. Moore said the decision stems from a "significant decline in mail volume. We're losing almost $25 million a day nationwide."
As a result of the reduced volume, Moore continued, "our real estate portfolio becomes too big. We just have too many postal facilities to actually sustain."
In addition to the onslaught of digital media, recent Congressional decrees have placed the USPS in a stressful fiscal posture. According to the American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey, "Despite what some would have us believe, the Internet is not killing the (USPS). The primary source of USPS financial difficulties is a 2006 law-- the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act --that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future, and to do so in a 10-year period. No other government agency or private company bears this crushing burden."
Moore admitted that the Postal Enhancement and Accountability Act "certainly plays a part" in decision to reduce hours and consolidate branches. But even without the implementation of the 2006 Act, "we would still have to look at how we're operating," Moore said.
"We certainly understand that the postal service is part of the fabric of every community, (yet) advancements in technology will not stand still simply for the postal service to operate like it did twenty years ago. So we have to work within that technology . .. and still try to maintain universal mail services for all Americans."
Moore said that an automated after-hours kiosk may be installed, "but that all depends upon what's happening in the community."
One Lakeville patron, Paula D'Ambrosio, came in to say goodbye to Yerkes, and said she will "miss her kindness, her patience, and her friendship." D'Ambrosio understands the constraints on the USPS, but looks at the move to automation as a step in the wrong direction. "I just like to come in to this Post Office and see the Post Mistress here. There is something--the continuity of it, the interpersonal relationships... that's what I'm going to miss.
Yerkes cites the early retirement offer as a major incentive for her exit, but also points to the way things are changing as another facet of her decision to retire early.
She looks back on her time at the USPS with fondness, and wistfully surmises that "Unless they change their outlook, I'm going to be the last postmaster of Lakeville, and I find that sad."