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Avoca Postmaster to retire after 34 years

justine wettschreck/Daily Globe After 34 years of serving the Avoca community, Mary Galles will retire from her position as Postmaster at the end of the month.

AVOCA -- Postmaster Mary Galles chatted with customers who wandered in and out of the Avoca Post Office, but kept one eye on the clock hanging on the back wall.

Soon the door opened and a woman walked in leading Chase, a neatly-sheared white poodle with a noticeable film over his eyes.

"There he is!" Galles announced, walking through the office door and around the counter to give her visitor a friendly scratch. "Hi there, Chasey."

The dog and his owner are part of the daily parade that stops in at the post office to pick up mail and find out what is going on in town. The little blind poodle is well-known around Avoca, and everyone knows part of his daily routine is to stop for a chat at the post office. Chase isn't the only one who is in the habit of stopping by. Galles has a lot of daily visitors, but soon there will be a big change in her life. She has been a fixture at the little post office for 34 years, but will retire at the end of the month.

"It is going to seem strange not seeing my customers every day," she admitted. "So many people just stop in to talk."

Most of the residents in the community know Galles can help them with stamps, envelopes, packages and any kind of mail question, but are also aware she can tell them who is in the hospital, who died and who just had a baby.

It isn't uncommon to see notes on the counter with information about residents who were just moved into nursing homes, are sick or are having some kind of a greeting card occasion.

If you need information in Avoca, you go to the post office.

"I provide good service to my customers," Galles said. "But I also watched their children grow up, keep an eye on the senior citizens and have been known to keep a look-out for those who come in asking, 'Have you seen my cat? Have you seen my dog?'"

Galles started working as a part-time flex clerk in 1978 after taking a civil service test.

"A bunch of gals from Avoca went down together to take the test," Galles remembered. "I didn't even know about it until someone said something, and I almost didn't go. I hadn't taken a test since high school."

Up until then, Galles had been working at the municipal liquor store and a local greenhouse. After passing the test with flying colors, she was hired by Avoca Postmaster Bob Somers.

"I was taught by the best," she said of Somers. "He knew how to treat his customers."

When Somers retired in 1984, Galles, after an interview in Mankato, was appointed Postmaster. She has never worked at another station, spending her entire career helping the people of Avoca with their mailing needs and keeping track of what's happening in the little city.

There have been plenty of changes at the post office in 34 years, with the addition of computers, scanners, barcode tracking and other technology, but she and others from the area have attended training on a regular basis to keep up. Most of the training now, she said, takes place on the computer.

People's mailing habits have changed over the years, she said, and the post office has done its best to adjust to the changes as best they can. There are less people with post office boxes, Galles noted, and more with rural routes.

Galles was born and raised in Avoca, and although she and her husband Dale moved to Slayton several years ago, her heart is in the small town. She has been known to lecture elderly customers who didn't let her know they were going out of town, and keeps one eye on the clock for her regulars. More than once, she has made a phone call or sent someone over to check on a resident who hasn't made their usual appearance, and admitted that once, years ago, she actually locked the doors of the post office and went to check on someone. She found him in a diabetic coma.

"You just get used to people's routines, and if they are out of the ordinary you start to worry," Galles explained.

When it comes to routines, she isn't sure what will happen when she wakes up Aug. 1 and doesn't have to head to work.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do," she said with laugh. "Sleep in? I like to embroider, I might do some volunteer work, and I'll definitely spend more time with my great-grandchildren."

There are a few parts of her routine that she refuses to change, such as the Friday pizza date she shares with the ladies from the Farmers Insurance Agency next door.

"I'll have to back for that," Galles said.

She glanced around the building in which she has spent the bulk of her adult life. On the walls are a variety of envelopes, mailers, informative posters and zip code lists, hung next to crayon drawings, a crocheted wall-hanging made by a customer who died years ago, addresses for congressmen, senators and the president and an address for a resident who had been moved into a home recently and an address. There is also an old clipping that explains the origin of the word Postmaster.

"The word 'Postmistress' has been popping up frequently, and it is wrong," the clipping states. "Be it male or female, the word is POSTMASTER. The origin comes from a time when mail was attached to a post along a road, and from this, the establishment of post roads. MASTER was denoted as a skill; therefore, those who could master the post skills were called postmaster. The word denotes skill, not gender."

With her habit of tending the community, handing out Tootsie Rolls to the children (and the occasional pet) and keeping everyone updated on the health and happenings of her residents, Galles can definitely be considered a master of the post in Avoca.

She admits she will miss everyone, but knows she is leaving the people in the skilled and caring hands of her replacement, Chris Van Dyke, who has worked part-time for the post office for about 10 years.

"It will be hard not seeing my customers every day," she said with a sigh. "This is my social life, and I will miss everyone."