Retiring postmaster will miss friends in Willernie

Willernie Postmaster Steve Boughan sells stamps to a long-time customer.

When Willerie Postmaster Steve Boughan first started with the United States Postal Service in 1987, the first-class rate was 22 cents and often represented by an “E” stamp.

Now that Boughan is retiring, the first-class rate has gone up to 58 cents and is represented by the “forever” stamp.

Speaking of “forever,” Boughan didn't want to keep getting up at 4 a.m. forever to drive an hour to work from his home in Dresser, Wisconsin.  So he will be trading the job he loves for sleeping in and hunting for rocks with his wife.

A retirement party for Boughan is planned for Friday, June 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Roma Restaurant's outdoor patio in downtown Willernie. His last day on the job will be June 30.

A Dayton, Ohio native, Boughan started his career with the postal service after finishing his four-year tour of duty with the U. S. Marine Corps. As a veteran, Boughan received an immediate opportunity to take the postal service test that civilians must wait to take every five years. He got 100% and 98% on the two-day series of tests.

Job interviews quickly followed, and he started as a postal clerk at the Del Mar, California post office shortly afterward.

“It was the era before automation, and the post office needed someone to dump out the bags of mail,”  Boughan said. “That was a thankless job.”   

He liked the hands-on aspect of the job, however, and was not quite as happy sitting behind the desk at his next gig as supervisor.  For the next 14 years as manager, he was not allowed tolift so much as a postage stamp, not to mention schmooze with the customers.

In 2001, when the first-class rate was 34 cents, Boughan and his wife moved back to Ohio to be with his ailing father. He took a six-day-a-week job as clerk with irregular hours. “It stunk,” he said. When his wife took a job in the Twin Cities, the Boughans moved to her hometown of Osceola, Wisconsin, and he took a job with the Stillwater post office.  The first-class rate then was 37-cents.

Finally, in April 2004, Boughan came to Willernie as officer-in-charge and filed for the postmaster job that had been posted.

“I was ecstatic to be selected postmaster,” he said. 

For the next 18 years, he has anchored the Willernie post office, the social center for a town of some 500 people that sits surrounded by Mahtomedi.

With no home mail delivery, all of the approximately 220 households in town must come into the post office to retrieve their mail. As a result, Boughan knows everyone in town along with their box number.

When mail arrived at the Willernie post office addressed to “Grandpa Joe, Willernie,” Boughan and the clerks didn't miss a beat correctly slipping the letter into Grandpa Joe's box.

“I've been blessed with a lot of relationships in my job,” Boughan said.  That's because he's not content to sit at his desk all day shuffling papers.  Customers are just as likely to see him at the counter to weigh their packages and chat as they are to see clerk Jaci Tennyson.

“It's not at all stressful here at the Willernie post office,” Boughan said. “I can be postmaster, work the window, box mail or sell stamps.  I'm not just writing reports – I'm a hands-on, working postmaster.”

Because of the social atmosphere at the post office, customers have been known to bring cookies for the post office crew. “There used to be this 80 year-old lady who lived on the corner in those white apartments who would bring us home made fudge,” Boughan said.  One day, the woman needed a light bulb changed because her card club was coming over.  Boughan said it was a treat to take a 10-minute break to go over there and change it for her. 

That kind of friendship between the post office clerks and customers goes on every day, Boughan said, and that is what he will miss most.

Another of Boughan's favorite memories is of an elderly couple who lived near the corner of Warner Avenue. The husband came in every day to get the mail, Boughan said. When he died, Boughan ran a small but important errand each day to drop off the mail at her home.

The community helps out the postal workers too, Boughan said. Once he was at the window dealing stamps when the power went out.  “It was so pitch black in there, I couldn't read the mail at all,” he said. “A customer ran home to get a generator, and soon the light was on.” 

As Boughan has seen first-class rates grow incrementally each year, he has also seen his young customers grow even faster. Boughan remembers families towing children in diapers coming in for their mail. “Now those same kids are in college and come in to get their own mail,” he said.

Boughan hopes he'll have the opportunity to say goodbye and tell stories to the entire town at his June 24 retirement party.  Box holders will have the opportunity when they collect their mail during his last week.

Residents of Birchwood, Mahtomedi, Grant and other neighboring communities who came in to mail packages or buy stamps from Boughan are also invited to the celebration of a happy postal worker.


Loretta B. Harding is a contributing writer for Press Publications. She can be reached at    or 651-407-1200. 

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