I was an employee at the U.S. Post Office in Lake Geneva from 1959 to 1966.
What follows are my memories of working at the post office during these halcyon years — memories that are no doubt shared by present and retired employees of the post office, including Bob Pawlowski, Wayne Vorpagel and Hawk Taylor.
I think that being a post office employee must have been in my genes. My father, Bernard Quinn Jr., had been a letter carrier at the post office from the mid-1930s until he entered the U.S. Army in 1942, and my uncle, Tom Wardingle, who raised me with his parents (my grandparents), had been a letter carrier at the post office from 1936 until he entered the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942, and from his discharge in 1945 until his death in 1959.
I began working at the post office while a senior at Badger High School. People like myself were hired to work part time during the pre-Christmas rush. Much of the need for seasonal, part-time employees was due to the output of the Cheese Box on Wells Street, which mailed out thousands of boxes of cheese ordered by patrons as Christmas gifts for friends and relatives.
When I turned 18 during the summer of 1960, I took a civil service exam at the Federal Courthouse in Kenosha, passed the exam and was hired by the Lake Geneva Post Office.
John Arnold was then the postmaster. He had previously worked at the First National Bank as a teller. Kate Peterson was the assistant postmaster. There were three city mail routes and three rural routes. The city mail carriers were Al Gove (who had succeeded the longtime city route three carrier, Fuller Boutelle), Roger Lasch (who had succeeded the longtime city route one carrier, Ernie Niles), and Ed Grace (who had succeeded my uncle Tom Wardingle as the city route two carrier).
The rural route one carrier was Jack Schlicher, the rural route two carrier was Jack’s father, Rudy Schlicher (assisted by Andy Malsch, who had been the first rural carrier in Lake Geneva), and the rural route three carrier was Lowell Mason. During the years that I worked at the post office two of the rural route carriers, Lowell Mason and Rudy Schlichter retired.
Jack Schlichter moved from rural route one to rural route three, Roger Lasch moved from city route one to rural route one and Ed Grace moved from city route two to rural route two. Vince Lazzeroni became the regular carrier on city route two and Don Amann became the regular carrier on city route one. Later both Amann and Lazzeroni became rural route carriers.
There were also several clerks who worked inside the post office, including Augie Yakes, Donald Dunn, and Lee Fish. Bill Wall had just retired as a clerk. During the early 1960s, Gene Cos, from the Chicago Post Office and Geza Hellstern, also from the Chicago Post Office, became clerks at the Lake Geneva Post Office. The janitor at the post office was Earl Jack, a World War I veteran who had replaced the longtime janitor, Herman Stanford.
I had to be at work very early in the morning, usually before 6 a.m. My first task was to unload the two semi-trailers loaded with mail and packages that came to Lake Geneva from Milwaukee. All of the other members of the post office staff arrived at work at 7 a.m. John Arnold, Kate Peterson, Augie Yakes, Donald Dunn and Lee Fish sorted the first class mail, sitting in front of a row of pigeon holes.
They sorted the mail into the pigeon holes, one each for the three city carriers, the three rural carriers, the Sturwood “mounted route,” the post office boxes, and, during the summers, the marine route, which delivered mail on the Walworth I to the piers of lake shore estates.
My job was to sort all of the magazines, newspapers and other “flats” for the six carriers, the P.O. boxes, the Sturwood mounted route, and the marine route. I also sorted all of the parcels and packages that had arrived prior to loading them onto the post office truck for delivery. My next task was to deliver (using the post office truck) all of the “special delivery” letters that had arrived.
At 9 a.m., mail delivery began. Between 9 and 9:30 a.m., the three city carriers delivered the mail to the stores on Main and Broad streets. By 9:30 a.m. the city and rural carriers had completed the sorting of mail for their routes, i.e, putting it into their “cases” in the order of its delivery.
This process was called “casing,” then “tying the mail out,” i.e. creating bundles of mail, each of which would fit in their leather mail “pouches,” which they would carry. Each bundle consisted primarily of flats (newspapers, magazines, etc.) and three small bundles of first class mail tied up by string. The entire bundle would be held together by leather straps. My job would be to load all of the bundles into the post office truck and drive them to each of the many large, green mail boxes scattered around the city or place some bundles on people’s porches.
Carriers would place new bundles into their pouches when they had run out of mail on their routes. My job was difficult because I had to make sure that I kept ahead of the three city carriers as they progressed on their routes. The letter carriers had to carry the mail in their pouches because there were no three-wheeled carts in those days.
When I had completed delivery of all of the bundles (which were called relays) to the proper boxes, my next task was to begin delivering all of the parcels and packages that I had packed into the truck, beginning first with those addressed to the downtown businesses. I was carefully instructed to only use the alleys to deliver the packages, and if possible, deliver them at the rear door of the businesses.
Once I had delivered packages to all of the businesses, I would use the post office truck to deliver mail to the homes in Sturwood on what was called the “mounted route.” The houses in Sturwood had rural mail boxes in front of them into which I would place the mail. After I finished the Sturwood “mounted route,” I would resume delivering packages to homes. I had to devise the quickest and most efficient route to deliver the packages.
When I had finished delivering packages, it would be time to “face” all of the outgoing mail that had accumulated during the day, feed it into the cancelling machine and cancel it. Then, working with one of the clerks, we sorted it by putting it into pigeon holes in the “outgoing” case, arranged by destination. We would then “tie out” the bundles of outgoing mail after we had sorted it by destination, put the bundles into sacks, and lock the sacks.
By this time, it was 5 p.m., and the end of the work day for the post office employees, except for me. I would have to load the sacks of mail and packages onto the two semi-trrailers that arrived to take them to Milwaukee and I would then lock up the post office. On some days I did not leave work until almost 8 p.m. Such was my daily routine on most days. On Sundays I worked at the post office all by myself.
During the summers most of the regular carriers would take their vacations. Most of them would also take vacation during the coldest days of winter. I carried the mail on a route when the regular carrier was on vacation. Route three was in the western part of Lake Geneva, route two, the northern part, and route one, the eastern part. I carried the mail from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the summers, it was often hotter than hell and in the winters it was brutally cold.
I welcomed having to carry route number three, which began along the lake’s shore and wound its way past my house across the street from the Pioneer Cemetery and eventually to Pleasant Street, which was then arched over by large cathedral elm trees. I hated carrying the mail on Grant Street, where the houses were new and there was no shade. And I hated carrying the mail on route one where I had to trudge up “Catholic Hill.” Each Thursday it took the regular carriers much longer to “case” their routes (sort their mail by address) because the Lake Geneva Regional News had to be delivered to most homes in the city. The regular carriers could not “hit the streets” until much later than on the other days.
They were provided with what was called a “swing,” i.e. they did not have to deliver about a third of their route because the longer “casing” that they did meant that they began carrying their routes much later than they did on the other days. I had to carry the swings for each of the carriers’ routes.
The three rural carriers also took their vacations during the summer, and by 1964, I had realized that it was much easier to deliver their routes while they were on vacation than to carry the mail. I would “case” their mail, “tie it out” into bundles, put the bundles in my car and deliver the mail by car. Rural route one served the north and south sides of Geneva Lake, rural route two served Geneva Township and Como, and rural route three served Lyons and Bloomfield townships.
Working at the post office paid my way through college. I would never have been able to attend the University of Wisconsin had it not been for the wages that I earned at the post office. After I began teaching history and English at Racine Park High School in 1965, I no longer had time to work at the post office, so I resigned my position.
A half century after working at the Lake Geneva Post Office, I can say that it was one of the best experiences that I have ever had.
Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native and a University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.