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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Postal Service Gets His Stamp Of Approval For Helping People

Ask Garry Richards how the Postal Service has changed in his 28 years, and he’ll talk about the technological wonders. Machines that sort 11 letters per second, bar codes, amazing systems to decipher hard-to-read addresses.

But making other people happy is what really tickles the retiring Veradale postmaster. Richards says the post office has gotten much better at that over the years.

“We used to have manuals upon manuals, and strict regulations about how things were to be done,” Richards says. Nowadays, a postmaster has more leeway to decide how to do things best.

When customers go on vacation, for instance, the regulations say the post office can’t hold their mail for more than 30 days.

“What if they’re going to Europe? What are we supposed to do with their mail - send it back?” Richards says. Bending those kinds of rules makes his customers happy, and Richards knows it.

When Richards got into the Postal Service, he began as an examiner. “I got all the grunt work,” he says, counting supplies and so on for the auditors he worked with. As he learned, he became a senior examiner, leading a team of four. Sometimes he had to go into the smallest post offices, once it had been decided they had to be closed down.

One memory that stands out for Richards involves a postmaster who had come under fire for some sort of problem with his books. The fellow’s job was at risk. Richards got the OK to spend an entire week, ferreting out the problem. And as he suspected, the postmaster was doing something unorthodox in his bookkeeping - but it was through a lack of knowledge. Richards saved his job.

“He’s been eternally grateful to me,” he said.

In mid-morning behind the counter, the Veradale post office, on Sprague Avenue just east of Progress Road, is a busy place. One open section of floor - and there aren’t many - is dotted with small packages. “Watch your step,” warns Richards. Mail is everywhere.

“We’re completely out of space,” the postmaster says. The neighboring Kinko’s is planning to move, and Richards looks forward to the day when the post office might expand into that space - even though he won’t be at the helm then.

“As a retirement present to myself, I bought a 1998 Ford Explorer. I figure that will be good to transport plenty of people,” he says. He’s ready to approach United Way, maybe Meals on Wheels.

No one who knows Richards will be surprised. After all, when the Veradale post office receives bulk samples of shampoo or other products that can’t be delivered, this postmaster donates them to the Valley Center.

That’s probably against some rule in some Postal Service manual. But, what a good idea.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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