After 51 years, mail carrier ready for post-office life

“This is a swell day,” smiled retiring mail carrier Ernie Turner, as he worked  Monday.  Turner retired Wednesday after  51 years of service to the U.S. Postal Service. (J. BART RAYNIAK / The Spokesman-Review)
“This is a swell day,” smiled retiring mail carrier Ernie Turner, as he worked Monday. Turner retired Wednesday after 51 years of service to the U.S. Postal Service. (J. BART RAYNIAK / The Spokesman-Review)

Quite a few of Ernie Turner’s co-workers were not alive when he began work with the U.S. Postal Service in 1958. After all those years of completing his appointed rounds through rain, sleet, snow and baking sun, he retired Wednesday on the day before his 78th birthday.

“If I was to really look at it seriously, I’d just have to say my body is complaining too much,” Turner said of his decision to finally retire. “I’ve enjoyed the post office. I just like the style of work.” His wife of 53 years, Joyce, also said she’d like to have him around the house.

Turner traveled a long road to the Opportunity post office in Spokane Valley, where he ended his career. In 1951 he joined the Navy and was an aviation machinist on ships near Korea and the China Sea during the Korean War. After his four years ended he got a job in a furniture factory, but was soon looking for other options. “The sawdust was really getting to my sinuses,” he said.

As a veteran he got extra points on his test to apply to the post office and decided to give it a try. “It took me two times to make the grade,” he said.

Things were a little different then. There were no automated machines that sorted mail in the order it needed to be delivered and there was a lot more of it. “We had an awful lot of mail,” Turner said. “Parcels had not been given to UPS yet. We had plenty of those and plenty of letters.”

Now, of course, the volume of mail is lower and automated scanners and sorters have relieved some of the workload from the carriers. “We’re able to get out on the streets sooner,” he said.

He lived with his family in California until 1981. He and his wife lost a son in an accident and moved to Spokane with their two youngest children in search of a fresh start. Family members had been in Spokane for the World’s Fair in 1974 and gave the region rave reviews.

He began with a route in the Manito area. He soon tired of all the stairs he had to climb, but the beautiful homes kept him there a few years. “That’s where they invented steps,” Turner said. “Every house had steps up to the sky.”

He moved on to a route out of the Hays Park post office, walking among the businesses and homes near Holy Family Hospital. In 1997, at an age when most people would think about retiring, he shifted to the last route he would have, a driving route in the Pasadena Park neighborhood along Upriver Drive west of Argonne.

He liked being able to drive most of his route and give his knees a rest, but missed having personal contact with residents as he made his rounds. “I stay in my truck for quite a bit of my delivery,” he said. “When you’re a foot carrier it’s a different world. You usually know where the dogs are and where the friendly people are. It opens you up to meeting a lot of people.”

Turner said he’ll miss the scenery on his route and the people. “I do look forward to seeing some people,” he said. “I really enjoy meeting some people on my route.”

He’s uncertain about his plans for his retirement and said that he might get a part-time job. Then there is the list of “honey-do’s” that his wife has been accumulating for years. “This is just speculation,” he said. “I’ve never been retired before.”

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