SUNDRE – Dozens of people came out to reconnect, reminisce and offer well wishes during a fond farewell for a beloved local postal worker who after 55 years of unwavering commitment to delivering mail decided the time had come to retire.
Sharon Jackson said her first day on the job delivering mail along a rural route through Bergen and Bearberry was on April 1, 1968.
“I had one person in a group box, and one person in a single box,” Jackson said on. Oct. 1 during an interview.
Fast forward more than five decades, and the number of patrons along her route had grown to 670, she told the Albertan.
“I always called them my people,” she said.
The relationships she forged and nurtured over the years are largely what inspired her to remain motivated.
“I’m going to say the love of my customers,” she said in response to being asked what are among the memories she keeps closest to her heart.
“They had a farewell happy retirement party for me out in Bearberry,” she said.
There were approximately 70 people who on Saturday, Sept. 30 came out to celebrate at the Bearberry Hall. Among them were Diane Stefanchuk, who only moved to the Bearberry area some seven years ago but has since first meeting Jackson at her rural mailbox come to feel a connection with the dedicated letter carrier.
“She was my postie,” said Stefanchuk, adding it was the little personal touches that seemed to resonate with so many people.
“I don’t think there’s a single person who’d have a complaint,” said Stefanchuk.
Stefanchuk, who helped emcee the event, asked people to share some memories, which were in no short supply.
“There’s so many stories people have,” she said. “People had nothing but great things to say about her.”
Among the cherished anecdotes that were shared was the story of the time someone’s granddaughter wrote a letter addressed simply to grandma.
“Sharon found out who the grandma was and managed to deliver it,” said Stefanchuk.
“She went above and beyond.”
Also attending were Hilda Kilgour as well as George and Barb Wiker.
“They were on my route the first day I started,” said Jackson, adding they still are to this day.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she said about the get-together, which also featured a box with an all-but-endless roll of paper for people to scribble down some thoughts.
“It was almost like it was never ending, and it fit in the box and everybody signed on that paper. It was really a neat idea,” she said.
“It’s amazing the bond we make with people.”
And a custom-made, personalized cake that she described as “beautiful” seemed to tie things together. The cake’s decorations featured “a road driving down through the field and a bunch of trees and a little mailbox on the side,” she said, chuckling fondly.
“It was really neat,” she said.
Adding icing to the proverbial cake was the presence of her daughter as well as her grandson who also brought his little girl, she said.
“So, I actually ended up with four generations in my own family at this party,” she said.
During a separate sendoff held at the post office on the morning of Sept. 29 – her last official day of delivering mail – Jackson said she had also been recognized for going 55 years without injury.
Although she as a result of other careless motorists had on a couple of occasions been on the receiving end of a rear-end collision, she had never sustained any injuries.
“I’m just lucky I wasn’t hurt,” she said.
But looking back over the years, Jackson said she harbours absolutely no regrets whatsoever and would without hesitation happily do it all over again.
“I enjoyed doing the route; I really did. It was my route and they were my people and it was up to me to take care of them and I tried to do my best to do that,” she said.
“It ended up being the love of my life because I really enjoyed it. I like the scenery; I have a very pretty route to drive around,” she added.
“If it wasn’t for my eyesight and my health, I would still be going – oh yeah. I’d have gone until they found me at a mailbox.”
However, this past summer’s heatwaves when temperatures were often around the 30 C range prompted her to reconsider.
“The weather was very hard on me and I’ve decided that that was a good thing in the end because it made me ready to retire,” she said.
Previously having precious little spare time, Jackson now intends to pick up her crochet needles more often and also has plans this coming November to visit her son in Lethbridge.
Expressing heartfelt gratitude for those who organized the thoughtful farewell, Jackson’s daughter Ginger MacDougall said her mother told her afterwards how overwhelmed she had been by the love in the room.
“Each and every person on her mail route over the years became an extension of our family,” she said. “You just don’t realize it until you put them all together in one room.”
MacDougall said she holds dear recollections “of picnics down by the creek or various other places we stopped along the way” and remembers accompanying her mom along the route back when rural residents had individual mailboxes that owners would decorate as an expression of themselves.
“She would always tell me when I went for the drive, ‘Just wait until we get to the next box, they have the most beautiful flowers planted or they have a new unique mailbox or they built a beautiful display for the holidays or a neat gate or they added something to their yard,” MacDougall said.
“It never went unnoticed.”
And every year, she said her mother would find and take the time to handwrite holiday greetings in Christmas cards to everyone along the route.
“I used to think that Santa must have been proud of how good she was year after year because of all the cards, cookies, pies, crafts, boxes of chocolates and knick knacks she received.”
MacDougall said her mom will miss the job, but added she isn’t the only one.
“I think she will be missed just as much by the community of people that she served.”
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