She’d call when a special package came in. She’d call when a new stamp arrived for the collection. She’d even call if you didn’t put enough postage on your letter. But now she’s calling it quits.
Milly Cropp, Otis Orchards’ postmaster and public servant of 30 years, retired at closing time Friday.
“I’ve never seen a gal work harder for the post office,” said Marjorie Evans, a former Almira, Wash., postmaster and one of dozens who filed thorough the rural post office to offer Cropp their congratulations.
An Otis Orchards native, Cropp returned to the area in the 1970s and began working for the post office when it was still attached to a grocery store and clerks sorted mail from boxes on the floor.
“We used to have to do everything by hand, we had to lick stamps,” she said.
She became postmaster in 1981 and has run the present post office since it opened in 1989.
“She was a go-getter as far as getting us postmasters involved,” Evans said.
A past president of the National League of Postmasters for Washington state and an advocate for postal issues in the region for decades, Cropp’s influence went beyond the quiet fields outside the office window.
If Evans had any postal problems, she said she knew she could always call Cropp for help.
Veradale postmaster Louise Soles also described Cropp as a reliable source of advice and help, particularly for women looking to advance themselves in the Postal Service.
“It’s her identity, it’s her purpose. It’s really been something she’s been proud of and takes very seriously,” said Kerry Cox, Cropp’s oldest daughter.
Some said they can’t believe she’s retiring, a decision Cropp said took about five years to make. She’ll miss interacting with people, Cropp said, but at 68 years old it gets hard to stand 10 to 12 hours a day.
“I want to do things,” she said. She is planning to pack her Ichiro Suzuki jersey in the spring and head to Mariners training camp in Arizona. She also plans to visit Alaska and Nashville, Tenn.
The Postal Service is in the process of finding a replacement postmaster, Cropp said.
At Ace Hardware down the street, longtime employee Teresa Phelps said everyone knew who Cropp was – partly because Otis Orchards is still a small community and partly because of her position.
“She ran a tight ship,” Phelps said. She recalled how Cropp would come in to the store to buy gifts unique to each of her colleagues’ interests around Christmas.
Back at the post office, the parking lot was full Friday. Cropp scheduled an Irish band that included one member who played at the office’s 1989 opening.
“I’m going to miss her because she actually put a stamp on your letter some times,” which clerks in most offices wouldn’t do, said Joyce Rougle who moved to Otis Orchards around the time Cropp started working.
Cropp said she always made it a point to say at least one friendly thing to every customer.
“When you come in, I want you to say ‘that was really pleasant,’ ” she said.
She’s particularly proud of the drive-through, which is one of only a handful in the country. Cropp said it is especially popular with mothers who have children in car seats.
Bill and Betty Burnette have known Cropp since they started renting a post office box 16 years ago. She would call Bill Burnett at home as soon one of the stamps he collected got in.
“She’s just been outstanding,” he said.