Columbia passport clerk Wood to retire after 27 years

Monday, May 9, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:08 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 9, 2011
U.S. Postal Service employee Mike Wood helps Ryan and Nikki Watson prepare their passport application on Tuesday. Wood is retiring in July after working for the post office for more than 26 years.

COLUMBIA — As a world traveler, Mike Wood has channeled his passion to provide Columbia residents with the ability to travel abroad, one passport at a time.

Since 1984, Wood has been serving the Columbia community as a postal worker, primarily specializing in passport application services at the downtown post office.

“I especially found helping people travel rewarding,” Wood said. “My own travels have helped me help others to do the same. I have become known for that portfolio mostly.”  

Unsure for many years about what he wanted to do for a living, Wood spent a couple of years in the Navy and worked for more than four years in the kitchen at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital before being hired by the U.S. Postal Service in 1984. 

“I never wanted to be a commanding officer,” Wood said. “My dad managed a corner pharmacy in Slater, and I learned the satisfaction of serving people from my father. Sometimes I have to be the big ugly guy, and then there’s other times I can go to the nth degree for people, and I love doing that.”

Wood spent 11 years at Columbia Regional Airport in its processing and distribution center. He then got a job servicing post office customers at Columbia Mall and Nowell’s grocery stores. In addition, he would fill in for different jobs at the downtown post office.

“The job evolved into mainly working at the post office, processing passport applications,” Wood said.  He went on to become the institutional knowledge clerk at the passport window — despite his fear of ruining others’ travel plans and his reluctance to leave his job to others.

After 9/11, Wood said he found himself inundated with work. The Bush administration passed a regulation in 2005 requiring a passport for all international travel, including trips to Mexico or Canada. The demand for passports spiked.

“I was one busy guy,” Wood said.

In June 2007, Wood took a five-week scuba-diving trip to Fiji and the Solomon Islands, where he was able to study the history of World War II and see wreckage from it.

“There’s a narrowing in everyone’s life — economic and physical,” Wood said. “I can always take a vacation just as good but never better than that one.”

When Wood returned to the post office after his trip, the physical demands of the job became more intense. The hours he spent standing on the concrete floor began to aggravate his already-problematic hips. In an effort to avoid hip replacement, Wood made plans to retire. He expects July 2 to be his last day at the passport window.

“I pointed everything toward this time in my life being so good, and it’s really good,” Wood said. “I’m happy. I thought I was going to end up married with kids and all, but I didn’t.”

The most important part of his job, Wood said, is that he loves the people he works with. Ellen Froeschner, who has worked with Wood since 1986, has become a good friend. 

“Mike is a very eclectic character,” Froschner said. “He’s good to call on if you need a hand and has always been a good co-worker.”

Wood, who frequents Cooper’s Landing, said he will spend his retirement kayaking on the Missouri River, riding his recumbent tricycle on the Katy Trail, and practicing tai chi. After discovering Cooper’s Landing a few years ago, Wood said he has fallen in love with its grassroots, crossroads-like community. 

While he is unsure of his future travels abroad, he is certain he wants to stay in the Columbia area. “I ended up in the right place,” Wood said. “I just don’t think I’d feel right anywhere else.”

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aaron shanks June 1, 2011 | 3:18 a.m.
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