Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 10, 2000

Arlys Hartwig: retiring postmaster says everyone should try it

By Jane Otto

"Everyone really needs to try and sort mail at least once," said Arlys Hartwig, former Lester Prairie postmaster.

"No one really knows what goes into "casing the mail."

Hartwig should know. She retired as postmaster Feb. 25, after 16 years of casing mail in Lester Prairie.

"Casing the mail" is postal jargon for sorting the mail into its proper slots or cases.

The mail comes in two-foot trays with typically 300 to 500 pieces in every tray.

"It's not unusual to have 30 feet of mail to sort, and in a small threshold of time," said Hartwig.

If you do the arithmetic, that's 9,000 to 15,000 pieces to sort, with little room for error. Hartwig said it's easier now that the mail comes in trays, which are presorted by first class and bulk rate.

At one time, the mail came in sacks which meant the first class mail had to be separated from the bulk rate mail before the worker could even begin sorting the first class items, she said.

From mail sacks to trays is just one change Hartwig saw over her years at the Lester Prairie office.

Of course the most significant change for Hartwig came when Milo Kubasch retired as postmaster in July 1983.

"I kind of fell into the job," said Hartwig.

Hartwig came to the Lester Prairie post office via the Glencoe post office. She said she was offered the job in Glencoe at a minimum of two hours per week. Hartwig explained that the postal service does that so that if the person doesn't work out, the postal service is only committed to two hours per week for that person.

She began work there in January 1981 and it wasn't long before she was up to 30 hours per week. While at Glencoe, she was required to learn the four city mail routes.

"It was about a 10-1/2 mile walk each day," said Hartwig. " I was very fit in those days."

On Wednesdays or Thursdays, when the newspaper came out, the sack weighed roughly 35 to 40 pounds. Hartwig would switch the bag from shoulder to shoulder so as not to aggravate a previously broken bursar.

During this time, Keith Hermann worked in the Lester Prairie office and asked Hartwig if she would be interested in trading jobs.

Hartwig said, "I knew there would come a time when I couldn't handle being a mail carrier and the Lester Prairie job was a clerk position."

A resident of Lester Prairie for more than 40 years, the switch with Hermann was too good to be true. Even though it was a cut in hours, she wouldn't have to drive to work.

And little did Hartwig know, that just a few months later, she would be postmaster.

At that time, Hartwig said, the post office paid attention to in-house employees. She explained that now postmasters need officer-in-charge training before applying for such a position.

Another change, she said, was the move to the new post office in 1990. The owner of the building where the post office was previously housed had died. The property had to be liquidated and the post office had to find a new home.

Hartwig said she was glad the business association decided to keep the post office downtown. It now stands next door to where the old one was.

Hartwig found it disappointing, however, that the new building was only 8 feet bigger than the old one. Hartwig said they're already cramped for space the new building.

A bigger concern than space was post office box keys. A lot of the boxes in the old post office had combination locks rather than keys, said Hartwig.

It was rather worrisome and difficult making sure everyone in town got their new key, explained Hartwig.

Besides new keys, new faces were not uncommon at the Lester Prairie station.

"I hired a lot of people and I have seen a lot go," said Hartwig.

She explained that a lot of postal employees liked to move on to a bigger post office, such as Waconia.

Hartwig obviously preferred staying in Lester Prairie. And now that she isn't pressed to sort the town's mail, what does she do?

"I want to do some reading and traveling, and I have some photo albums to catch up on," said Hartwig. "The calendar fills up rather fast."

Filling in for Hartwig temporarily is Pat Guggisberg of the Gibbon Post Office. Guggisberg said working at Lester Prairie also serves as officer-in-charge training for him. He will remain in Lester Prairie until a postmaster is hired, which he said should be in a few weeks.

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