By Dawne Belloise
The lines at the post office have lengthened exponentially as the holiday season takes on the frenzy of last-minute mailings and people picking up multitudes of packages. Lisa Rule is sorting endless amounts of letters, cards, bills and direct mail into the banks of metal post office boxes, stuffing each one as carefully as a Christmas stocking, while locals hover, hopeful for greetings and gifties.
During one holiday season, when Lisa worked at the mail processing plant in downtown Denver, the facility cancelled more than 4 million pieces of mail in a single day. “There was always a competition between Denver, Phoenix and Morgan Street Station in New York City to see who cancelled the most mail in one day during the week of Christmas,” she recalls. “That one year, we beat the other two offices.” Lisa explains that those three offices always had the most cancellations in all the continental U.S. “Up here at 81224, it’s kind of like controlled chaos.
“There’s always a plan, a schedule of when you have to get things done, ideally based on how much mail you have, but you may have more than you can process in one day, so you keep processing,” Lisa says. She says that they work 10-to-12-hour days during this time of year and confirms that yes, Amazon has had a huge impact on the post office, but surprisingly, it’s a relatively positive impact. “It’s revenue for the post office. I think the P.O. lost a lot of revenue when digital mail came along with the ability to instantly, electronically receive and send communications.” She notes that package volume increased, which helped offset lost revenue, but she adds that the post office isn’t supposed to make a profit.
“I realize people get frustrated standing in line, and hopefully we’re more prepared this year,” Lisa says, happy about the temporary holiday helper they hired this year. “We have a Christmas helper, kind of like an elf,” she explains, who will be at the Crested Butte station for 30 days. “I think things are looking up. This office has had growing pains, more volume with more people moving here and more and more, it impacts the P.O. Also, the process to employ new people is time-consuming,” she points out. “I knew what Christmas was like at the P.O. but I had no clue as to what it would be like up here. I feel that the post office has been really good to me.”
Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, where almost all of her relatives still live, Lisa was raised in a large family. Her father was a maintenance fix-it guy and her mom worked at everything, rather “a princess of all trades,” Lisa smiles. “If there was a job out there for her to do, she’d figure out how to do it.” Her parents moved to the Denver area when Lisa was three years old and afterwards moved around a bit to Greeley and Windsor, where Lisa attended elementary school.
As a child she was a bookworm, and being shy and not very athletic, Lisa confesses that she was a band nerd, a flautist. And not a very good one, she laughs, although her band marched in the July Calgary Stampede Parade in Canada. When Lisa was a child, her mom took her traveling to places and events like the World’s Fair in Montreal. “We drove in a 1967 Rambler convertible, stopping along the way at various sites. We also camped and fished as a family.”
In her junior year of high school, Lisa’s mother followed employment to Virginia. “I hated it,” Lisa admits. “I had no friends, I knew no one.” Her mother agreed to let Lisa move back to Greeley to live with her older brother and his wife, but when the sugar factory that her brother worked in closed down in 1977 and they had to move, Lisa returned to her mom in Virginia. She graduated from high school in Richmond in 1978.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation,” she says. So she found a full-time job as a jewelry buyer’s clerk for a few years in Richmond. When her stepfather offered to move the family back to Colorado, she jumped on it. Lisa was 20 years old when she moved back to Greeley with her family. She landed a job at Joslin’s department store in Denver, and moved to the Mile High City, where she enjoyed the life of going out and meeting new friends.
When the opportunity arose to take the civil service test for a position at the post office, Lisa went for it. “There were a lot of people competing, and the job market wasn’t great,” she recalls. After passing the test, Lisa was on a waiting list for 14 months before she was called to work at the mail processing plant in downtown Denver in 1986. Although she swore to never date anyone who also worked in the P.O., she met her current hubby, Wesley, there and the two began dating in 1990 and married in 2005. Wesley became an instant dad to Alezandra, who was born in 1987 from a previous relationship, and their son, Ethan, was born in Denver in 1991. Lisa also has a granddaughter, Everly, and step-granddaughter, Chloe.
In Denver, the family would go on outings to the museum and zoo. Although Wesley liked to hike and cycle, Lisa laughs, “I was too much of a klutz. He had learned to ski when he was 12 but I’m not a good skier and have skied maybe five times in my life. I’m more of a beach girl. One of the things I liked about Virginia was that the beach was only an hour away and the mountains were also about an hour and a half away.”
Lisa’s daughter graduated and left for college, and afterwards her son came to Western Colorado University (WCU) in 2008. He ended up staying in Gunnison. Lisa left the post office job that year and became a census taker supervisor in 2010. They sold their house in 2012 and began considering what they wanted to do in life. When Wesley decided to retire at the end of 2013, they chose to get out of Denver. Wesley had also attended WCU (then Western State College) in the early 1970s, but he really came to ski and pick up a diploma in his spare time, as the cliché goes. With their son still in Gunnison and Wesley wanting the small-town life, they bought a house in Gunnison and moved there in November 2013.
In Gunnison, Lisa decided she needed a job, especially if Wesley was retired. After speaking with the postmaster at the time, Jim Wardzinski, she took the civil service test again, reapplied for the mail clerk position and was hired in November 2013. She then thought to herself, “What the hell did I just do?” She says she doesn’t mind the 60-mile round-trip drive from her home in Gunnison, though. “It’s a nicer drive than the 15 miles I was having to drive in Denver and it takes about the same time, but it’s much nicer, even in the snow.”
Lisa does enjoy her job and the people she works with and for. She has a few pointers for the craziness of the holiday season and dealing with the joy of the post office lines and getting packages: “Make sure you’re using your P.O. box and not your physical address. Shop early and shop local. Bring snacks when you know you have to stand in line” and most important, she adds, “Understand that we will try to do our best for you. In any state that has a tourist-oriented economy, you’re going to have that wait and those lines.”