La Grande letter carrier Jesse B. Munoz has worked 30 years for the U.S. Postal Service. TRISH YERGES / The Observer
LA GRANDE — During a time of change for the U.S. Postal Service, letter carrier Jesse Munoz still buys out time for a little small talk with his customers, earning him the weekly compliment “You re the nicest letter carrier in town.”Jesse learned his friendly business ethics in large part from his father, Martin P. Munoz, now 87 years old and long retired from the U.S. Postal Service. Martin began his postal career in 1950, and in 1981 he was promoted to supervisor of delivery and collection at Oxnard, Calif. There Martin delivered mail to director Mel Brooks, and celebrities, Sonny and Cher, among others.
“Dad told us (children) stories often about what he did at work and who he met during the day,” said Jesse. “He once brought home a Young Frankenstein poster for me signed by Mel Brooks.”
Actually, in Jesse’ family there are eight members who had careers with the U.S. Postal Service: his father Martin P., a carrier/supervisor for 29 years; a brother Martin Jr., retired postmaster of Pendleton, 34 years; a sister Debra Gibbs-Munoz, postal processor in Southern California, 26 years; uncles Mario Munoz, a carrier for 30 years, Candelario, a custodian 30 years, a cousin, John Munoz, a carrier for 30 years, a cousin Raymond Chavria, a retired post master, 33 years; and Jesse, a carrier for 30 years at present. Collectively, the Munoz family members have clocked over 242 years of postal service.
“In those years, it was very common to see family members working for the postal service,” said Jesse. “In the 1960s and 1970s wages were pretty good. When the union got involved in the 1970s, wages got even better. The job security and benefits were good.”
Jesse’ 30-year-long postal career began in Oxnard when he was 23 years old. His brother, Martin Jr., was his supervisor there when he first started. Jesse worked at Oxnard for 12 years. During that time his oddest experience as a letter carrier involved unknowingly delivering a fake bomb to his customer, a package filled with lead pipe that was wrapped with duct tape. Of course, no harm came to anyone. Nonetheless, Jesse thought perhaps it was time to transfer and avoid the ever threatening gang situations there. So in 1993, he transferred to Milton-Freewater.
“I wanted a better place to raise my kids,” he said.
In 1995, he transferred again, this time from Milton-Freewater to La Grande where he worked as a letter carrier and clerk.
“As a clerk, I gained a lot of weight and got diabetes in 2001,” said Jesse, “so I decided I better get back to being a letter carrier again.”
That had its benefits, though, because Jesse knew which banks offered cookies and on what days, so his sweet tooth still got fed. Just the same, the weight came off when he began walking eight miles a day and delivering mail to about 834 homes and businesses. If he had mail for each of those homes in one eight-hour day, he would need to make a delivery about every 35 seconds.
That kind of work doesn’t come without its injuries, however.
“For letter carriers, knee, elbow and shoulder injuries are the most common,” he said. “I hurt my right knee recently.”
Like many letter carriers, Jesse gets to know his families very well.
“In some instances, I’ve known all members of a family,” said Jesse.
“I’ve watched their kids grow up, and it makes me feel a part of something I have known for a long time. That’s the most fulfilling part of my job.”
A letter carrier can tell things about his customers from the kind of mail they receive or send out.
“I can tell who’s old, handicapped or has trouble getting around. I can also tell if someone is trying hard to win a sweepstakes and if they are having hard times,” he said. “There may be letters from attorneys, lots of bills or I may have to deliver a garnishment notice. I don’t like doing that.”
Trends in the types of mail being delivered has changed too.
“You don’t see personal mail like love letters and handwritten communication, only form letters,” he said. “People just don’t write personal letters like they used to, not even a brief card. The personality of the mail just isn’t there anymore. It’s very impersonal, so when I see (a rare) personal letter, it’s nice to deliver that.”
Of course, people are happy to get checks in the mail, he said, and packages for baby and bridal showers. Those he enjoys delivering. Most financial mail is still addressed to the man of the house. That hasn’t changed much over the three decades Jesse has been delivering mail.
“I don’t deliver religious mail very often unless there’s an event with a speaker,” he said. “The bulk of my mail deliveries is utility bills, cable bills, but not too many credit card letters. J.C. Penney is also still a strong customer in this area.”
At age 54, Jesse is looking at a few more years of mail delivery before he retires. In the meantime, he strongly believes that a friendly letter carrier is the lifeblood of the postal business. He doesn’t want to see the postal service become so micromanaged that it becomes impersonal. He admits that he’s like his father “I’m the old way.” Good thing, too, because people still value his old, friendly ways, and he says it’s good for the postal business.
“I wish I could stay there forever, but I will retire in the future,” said Jesse. “I’m very honored to be employed by the U.S. Postal Service. It’s a very misunderstood business. A lot of people don’t know all the hard work that goes on in the post office building. I’m honored to be part of that because of my family’s history with the postal service.”
Though Jesse is not permitted to deviate off his delivery route, if someone “just happened” to cross his path with a gift of his favorite cookies —peanut butter or sugar — he would probably accept them with his customary, friendly smile.