Rural Missouri - October 2011 - (Page 29)

On the brink Post offices across Missouri face the threat of closure A handle passport applications, take visa photos, hold the jobs of several hundred fellow employees. mail, do forwards, paperwork, do bulk mailings and “Our mission is to serve every household in the shovel snow off walks.” country and to bind the country together,” Pam One other thing that Kim, Pam and their fellow says. That mission, she adds, is still needed today, s “Snowmageddon” wreaked havoc across rural postmasters are historically known for is raisespecially in rural areas. “We’re the only place in the Midwest this past February, Pam Payne ing the American flag every morning. town that flies the American flag,” says Pam. “And patiently waited out the storm inside Since Point Lookout’s post office sits on the for many people, this is the only face of the federal the Drop Anchor Motel in Gravois Mills. campus of the College of the Ozarks, Ternasky’s cusgovernment they ever see.” Instead of making the half-hour drive back to her tomers are predominately students. In this environShe says that since the Postal Service does not home in Tipton, she sought refuge in the ment, she plays a role that varies from counselor to receive any money from tax dollars, there is no small motel. confidant to Dutch uncle. government bailout option. When the sun rose the next morn“Everybody on campus comes here sooner or “We are completely self-sufficient,” Pam ing, nearly 20 inches of snow blanketlater,” she says. “They know the post office, they explains. “Whatever we take in across the ed the small town on the north end of Gravois Mills counter pays for everything. Every stamp, meet up here.” the Lake of the Ozarks. It wasn’t enough, • And they know Kim. “We love Kim!” confides every piece of mail and any bit of revhowever, to stop Pam from trudging across one student on a recent morning. “She likes to talk.” enue is important to us.” the street to the post office. Point Lookout Kim arrives at the post office building promptly Although the town of Gravois Pam is the postmaster for the town and • at 7:30 a.m. — in time to bring in the bags and carts Mills only boasts a population of was determined to open the office on time of just-delivered mail from the loading dock. 253, to serve her area’s 3,200 delivery just as the famous saying goes: “Neither After sorting and depositing mail into hundreds customers and 963 post office boxes, snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night of brass-fronted post office boxes, filling out several Payne oversees a part-time clerk, several rural route stays these couriers from the swift completion of forms, going online to learn whether any special drivers and a branch office down the road in Laurie. their appointed rounds.” issues have come her way and raising the flag, she In contrast, about 150 miles to the southwest, Did Pam have any customers in all that snow? unlocks the glass door to the counter area and opens Postmaster Kim Ternasky goes it alone. Her Point “Not until late in the day when I was ready to go for business promptly at 9 a.m. Lookout office is scheduled to remain open. home, but the post office was open,” she says. “I try In her crisp navy blue Postal Service slacks and “Here, I do everything,” says the no-nonsense, to serve my customers the way I would want to be striped shirt, Kim greets customers by name and 23-year veteran. “In small rural offices like this one, treated.” often manages to sell them a few stamps with whatwe open up, dump the mail, sort mail, scan packRural postmasters are like that. They play a speever else they came in for. She never slows down. ages, sell stamps, sell money orders, answer phones, cial role in many small communities, one that may This particular morning, she takes passbecome only a memory if the U.S. Postal port pictures of a 3-year-old and an infant, Service follows through on announced weighs and mails packages, sells a sheet of plans to close nearly 3,700 offices nationPurple Heart stamps to a veteran, explains wide, including 161 in the Show-Me State. how to expedite a passport application to “The post office has long been known a man on his way to the Philippines, colfor more than delivering mail,” says Pam. lects post office box rent and a dozen other “It’s a gathering place and often the center tasks — all before 10 a.m. of the community. People always seem During the minutes when she doesn’t to call us if they need anything from have a customer, there’s paperwork, along directions to ‘Is the café across the street with sorting and weighing the bulk mailopen?’” ing that the college wants to send out. For more than a quarter century, Pam Kim is also quick to note that if her has worked as a postmaster in small Misyoung customers don’t keep their rent paid souri towns such as Florence, Smithton on post office boxes, she stops their mail. and now Gravois Mills. “I don’t want to hear sob stories. They’re She has grown up with the post office. college students, so this is often their first Her mother was a longtime postmaster at step toward the real world, but we are a Syracuse, and her brother is postmaster federal facility here.” of nearby Fortuna, which is on the list of Life lessons, blizzards, flying the flag potential closures. and generally keeping up the image of the Pam is also the Missouri president of photos by Kyle Spradley federal government — it’s all in a day’s the National League of Postmasters, a Top: Postmaster Kim Fowler lowers the flag at the end of the day at the work at Missouri’s rural post offices. group actively trying to save rural post post office in Portland. The tiny office, which is served by Callaway Elecoffices, pointing out that the postal service Kirkpatrick is a writer from Gravois Mills. was called for in the U.S. Constitution. Not tric Cooperative, is on the U.S. Postal Service’s list of potential closures. Above: At Gravois Mills, Postmaster Pam Payne talks with a customer. Visit to see if only is the organization fighting to keep Pam believes in the value of rural post offices because of the personal your local post office is being considered for a necessary service alive for folks in the closure. country, but it also is working to protect connections postal workers make with their customers. by Susan Kirkpatrick OCTOBER 2011 29

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2011

Rural Missouri - October 2011
Table of Contents
Dining on the tracks
Zagonyi’s Charge
Staying on target
Husking heritage
Painting memories
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
On the brink
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - October 2011