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July 08, 2014 | 10:56 AMIt was her dream job.
To jump from a moving boat, race down a water-slicked pier to a mailbox to deposit mail and then sprint back up the pier to jump back on the still-moving boat.
In 1974, it was still a young man’s job to be the U.S. Mailboat jumper on Geneva Lake.
But Elaine Kanelos was undeterred.
A graduate of Badger High School, Kanelos had spent all of her summers living along Geneva Lake.
The Kanelos family knew the Gage family, owners of Gage Marine and operators of the Mailboat.
Then an 18-year-old with a desperate need for a summer job, in 1974, Kanelos sent a letter to Bill Gage Sr.
“I wrote: ‘I think you should hire a girl to be the mail jumper and I think you should hire me,’” Kanelos said in a telephone interview Monday.
Much to her surprise, she said, Gage responded almost immediately, replying with a letter formally accepting her application for mail boat jumper.
For the next two years, Kanelos had the job of her young life, spending her summer days jumping from boat to pier and back again to deliver the mail and newspapers to her neighbors along the lake.
Kanelos, an author and businesswoman, now shares her time between Santa Monica, Calif. and Vail, Colo. However, her call came from Greece, where she was visiting her family’s home village in the Peloponnese.
Despite her world traveling ways, Kanelos said she fondly remembers her upbringing in Lake Geneva.
“How fun it was to be wild and free in Lake Geneva,” Kanelos said.
It was such an inspirational part of her life she recently authored “Mail Jumper! The Story of the First Mail Girl.”
Kanelos said she tries to make it back to Lake Geneva every two years for visits, but it’s been four years since her last stop here.
However, this weekend, she will be in town to sign copies of her book.
She’s scheduled to be at the Riviera Docks, 812 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday, July 11 and Sunday, July 13.
Kanelos will also be signing books from 5 to 7 p.m. July 12 at Pier 290 restaurant, 1 Liechty Drive, Williams Bay.
The book is being sold at the gift shops of the Lake Geneva Cruise Line and Pier 290.
The highlight, however, will be Saturday morning, when, for old time’s sake, Kanelos said, she will make a valedictory jump from the Walworth II as part of the U.S. Mailboat tour.
The boat leaves the docks at 10 a.m.
She will also sign books during the cruise.
The Mailboat jumper job for about 60 years was solely a male occupation.
But the job was also a bit different from what it is now, Kanelos said.
She said she had no idea of how young men applied for the job. She said she just wrote a letter.
Kanelos also said she had no idea why only men held the position until her fateful letter to Gage.It’s possible that no woman prior to her had applied for the position, Kanelos said. But in the 1970s, women were stretching their horizons and reaching for positions and careers that had once been exclusively male, she added.
There was no resistance to her application for the position.
In fact, Gage positively supported her position and arranged for a photographer to accompany her on her first mail run, Kanelos said.
In the 1970s, there were no tryouts. And Kanelos said she didn’t have a single trial run. Her first day on the job, was the first time she leaped from the boat.
Gage’s only suggestion was that she wear an outfit with a little “red, white and blue.”
Her first jump was at her family’s pier on Geneva Lake, she said. The photographer hired by Gage took most of the photos there.
If the photos make her look a little clumsy and her face had a slightly anxious look as she leaps from the boat, it’s because these were her first attempts to leap from a moving boat, Kanelos said.
Photos of the first young woman mail jumper were featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and in more than one hundred newspapers worldwide.
“It’s always been interesting to me that the most-used photos are of me putting mail in my mailbox on my own pier,” Kanelos said.
The mail jumper in the 1970s was the only full-time jumper, Kanelos said. There were several part-time jumpers who would take over on selected days to give the main jumper a break. One of the part-time jumpers during Kanelos’ first year was also a young woman, she said.
But it was Kanelos’ job to do most of the jumps.
Kanelos said her two summers as a mail jumper were fun, and she was pretty efficient at the job.
She said she never accidentally fell into the lake, although she admitted to staging two dunkings “for dramatic effect.”
The closest she came to an unplanned fall came on a wet, rainy and cold summer’s day.
Kanelos said she was running on a rain-slickened pier when she hit a slippery spot just before her jump. She jumped anyway, missed the railing and found herself hanging just above the water clinging to the edge of what was then an open deck.
A 10-year-old boy immediately got up, grabbed her wrist and helped her climb back into the boat, she said.
For two summers after her stint as Mailboat jumper, she worked with the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol.
Born in Chicago, Kanelos said she spent her early years in River Falls, Ill. But when she was 12, the family moved to their lakeside home in Lake Geneva.
She attended Woods School and Badger. After graduation, she went to Colorado University.
Kanelos said she had been president of an architectural consulting firm. She said she is now in the process of starting a new company.
Kanelos is a freelance writer and novelist. “Mail Jumper!” is her fourth book.
Kanelos is descended from Andy Kanelos, founder of Andes Candies. Her father ran the company for about 20 years after her grandfather’s death, but he sold the firm to a Swiss candy maker in the 1980s, she said.
For more information about the book “Mail Jumper!” go to www.lakegenevamailjumper.com. For more information on the Mailboat or other tours, call Lake Geneva Cruise Line at (800) 558-5911 or go to www.cruiselakegeneva.com.