By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Sue Claessen has been greeting Howard Lake postal customers and assisting them with their postal needs for more than 36 years.
For a year before she moved to the Howard Lake Post Office, Claessen assisted customers at the Cokato Post Office with their Saturday morning needs.
Claessen will be retiring Friday, Aug. 31 from the Howard Lake Post Office after a total of more than 37 years with the postal service.
“It’s a good office people work well together,” Claessen said. “It was all good years. I will miss the people, but it is time to move on.”
Claessen was hired by Cokato Postmaster DeVore Gustafson, and began working for the postal service May 24, 1975.
After a year at the Cokato Post Office, she transferred to the Howard Lake Post Office, which offered more hours and was closer to her home, southwest of Waverly.
“It’s been a good job,” Claessen said. “Stamps were only 10 cents when I started in the post office.”
Throughout the years, she has been a part-time flexible clerk.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years both in procedure and people,” Claessen said.
For instance, many of the children who were sent into the post office by their parents to buy that 10-cent stamp from Claessen in 1976, now have children, or even grandchildren, of their own.
Claessen has also noticed the change when she goes to the Howard Lake Cemetery each Memorial Day, noting that after working at the post office all these years, she knows a lot more of the people who have been buried there.
When Claessen started, everything was manual, and workers had to remember the procedures in their head.
Now, everything is on touch screens which walk workers through the process, Claessen said.
One of the things that Claessen has always done at the post office is look after the little guy literally.
“I always make a point of treating the smallest, younger customers with respect,” Claessen said.
She makes sure adults don’t budge in front of children, and if they do, she makes sure to help the child first.
Claessen noted that she is especially watchful of this since she remembers adults butting in front of her as a child.
Some of Claessen’s fondest memories at the post office were giving school tours to kindergarten and first-grade students.
When the students were visiting the post office near Valentine’s Day, they were able to use the hand-canceller to place the postal mark on their hand-printed envelopes addressed to their parents, Claessen said.
“They were very, very conscientious to get the mark on there, over the stamp,” Claessen said.
The children wanted to make sure it was perfect to show their mom or dad the next day when the valentine showed up at their house, Claessen noted.
Claessen also found it interesting that out of all the machines and other items at the post office, children on school tours liked the large plastic bags of rubber bands the most.
“I was always amazed by that,” Claessen said.
There have only been three different postmasters at the Howard Lake Post Office in Claessen’s years of service: Walt Peterson, Ron Miller, and Jack Lynch.
Most of the employees of the Howard Lake Post Office worked there for years.
“We went through a lot of family and work times together,” Claessen said. “We saw a lot of happy times, like births, and a lot of sad times, like the deaths of parents. We really became a family, I think.”
When the bombing at the Kimball Post Office occurred, Claessen had only been working for the postal service for about a year.
“That made everyone pause,” Claessen said. “We all thought about whether it was random, or if it was specific to Kimball.”
She also noted how the anthrax scare made everyone nervous, wondering if the perpetrators were targeting the USPS in general.
“You always think you are isolated in the Midwest, but you never know,” Claessen noted.
When working for the postal service, one realizes the strange things people send through the mail.
For instance, baby chicks, ducklings, and goslings are often mailed when they are just a few days old.
Claessen recalled a time when the postal workers were curious to see whether one package was chicks, ducklings, or goslings, so they opened up one corner of the package and a baby chick escaped.
They had to chase the baby chick around the post office for a while before they finally corralled it back into its box.
There have also been times when honeybees have come through the post office, and even cold-blooded reptiles for school.
There have been a couple of times throughout the years when postal customers and workers have been very lucky to not suffer injury when a vehicle careened into the building, Claessen noted.
Once, a driver mistook the accelerator for the brake, and crashed through the front of the building.
Another time, a car parked near Sunni’s Grille rolled through the alley, across the street, and into the post office building.
“We were really fortunate no one was hurt,” Claessen said.
The first thing Claessen and her husband, Ed plan to do in her retirement is visit their son, Dan in Utah, where he works for the US Forest Service.
They will then be traveling to California to spend time with their friend, Dan Best, this time with no ending date to their visit to be home by, Claessen noted.
The Claessens will also be able to focus more on their book, “Making Tracks,” scheduling more book signings and traveling more.
As someone who used to enjoy crafts and hobbies, such as sewing, Claessen hopes to start doing some of that again or learn something new.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of tears at 5 p.m. Aug. 31 you can’t be without them after so many years,” Claessen said. “But I’ll still be around,” she added, noting she currently serves as the secretary/treasurer of the Howard Lake Friends of the Library organization.