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Mail-dominated profession

Marcus Larson/News-Register<br><b>Postmaster Heidi Schoonover has spent several hours a day at the front desk of the Carlton Post Office since she started there in 2006. Today is her last day before retiring.</b>
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Postmaster Heidi Schoonover has spent several hours a day at the front desk of the Carlton Post Office since she started there in 2006. Today is her last day before retiring.

Dec 31, 2013


By Starla Pointer
Of the News-Register



When young Heidi Schoonover saw the mailman bringing letters to her childhood home in Aurora, it didn’t occur to her that one day she’d be doing the same job.

But today, on her final day of work, the Lafayette woman is looking back on a 31-year career with the post office as a rural carrier, supervisor and postmaster.

Schoonover was a young mother when she took a job as a substitute carrier in Woodburn, intending to work only until the regular employee returned from maternity leave. But when the other woman quit, she took on the job full-time.

“My ex-husband and my in-laws were all postal employees,” she said, so she knew it would be good, steady work.

Her own address was on her route. She would deliver letters to her mailbox, then continue on her way, waiting until she was off work and back home before opening her mail.

Six years later, in 1988, she became a carrier in Wilsonville. By that time, she and her family had moved to Lafayette, so she had a bit of a commute.

She switched offices and commute routes again in 1998 when she became a supervisor in the Tualatin post office. She decided to change to the office job because carrying mail was causing trouble with her shoulders and hands, she said.

In addition, while she liked delivering mail, it was too much of the same thing, day-in and day-out. She’d had a taste of supervisory work as a fill-in in Wilsonville, and knew it would give her a variety of challenges. “I’m really easily bored,” she said.

To become a supervisor, she went through a rigorous 16-week training program. It included one day a week of classes and four days of hands-on training.

Schoonover worked in post offices in Tualatin, Beaverton and Hillsboro. In these large offices, she managed 20 or more rural carriers — including Monique LaPerriere, who now works out of the Carlton office.

Eager to work in a smaller office, she became a postmaster in Jefferson in 2003. She took over the much-closer-to-home Carlton post office in 2006.

“As a postmaster, I wanted a smaller office,” Schoonover said. “In a smaller office, you get to meet customers on a positive note and visit, get to know them.”

It also gave her a chance to get to know her co-workers well. “My crew is the best,” she said.

“It’s like a family here,” she said. “Carlton is the best. The people here are great, both the employees and the customers.”

She worked the front counter in the Carlton Post Office three to five hours a day.

“I enjoy the customer service part,” said Schoonover, who served customers at a bank before joining the post office. “I want people to enjoy coming in and conducting business here.”

She joined other staff members in putting mail into post office boxes, as well. As manager, she saw that all her delivery crew members had what they need. And she completed reams of paperwork, certifying that every piece of mail was handled correctly and mail posted in Carlton left the office, heading toward its destination.

“I make sure the day goes smoothly and deal with fires when they arise,” she said.

For instance, her office recently received a package containing a bottle of wine — which had broken, drenching several other boxes. That should never have happened, Schoonover said. Something liquid and breakable should have been packaged correctly, so it wouldn’t leak.

“That’s why we ask people if they’re sending anything like that,” she said. “If they ‘fess up, we can ask them to remove the item or give them ideas how to package it securely.”

Schoonover is retiring right after the busiest season of the year, Christmas. During the holidays, post office revenues triple and the volume of arriving mail increases greatly — at least twice as many packages and half again as many letters, she said.

No matter what time of year, mail today is quite different than it was when Schoonover joined the post office. Volume is down overall, but the number of parcels is up considerably, she said, attributing the increase to television and Internet shopping.

The post office also handles more parcels because it partners with FedEx and UPS, she said. Those shipping companies bring packages into town, but drop many of them off at the post office instead of going door-to-door, she said. USPS carriers take them to their final destination.

Carriers on rural routes — the job she had for several years before becoming a supervisor — handle about the same volume of mail they always did, but they often make more stops, she said. They may have only one item per address, but more addresses on their routes. “We go to every place, every day,” she said.

Another big change since she started: computerization. Back then, there were no computerized tracking numbers, for instance.

In recent years, Schoonover said, it seemed as if she spent more time interacting with the computer than with employees or customers. “That’s not as good for me,” she said. “I would rather have personal contact with people.”

Luckily, she said, a small office like Carlton is much more people-driven than a big office. “Carlton is a blessing in more ways than one,” she said.

Now that she’s retiring, Schoonover and her husband, Alan, would like to do some traveling. In particular, they want to go to Las Vegas and North Carolina to see NASCAR races.

She also has a number of projects waiting for her at home, she said. She enjoys gardening and plans to start using her greenhouse again. She loves crafting and sewing, and has always wanted to get into quilting.

And she’s looking forward to spending time with her sons, Jason Bizon of McMinnville and Jeff Bizon of Hubbard, and her grandchildren, a 6-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. With the grandkids, she said, she plans to bake cookies, do crafts, watch movies and just enjoy snuggle time.

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or spointer@newsregister.com.

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