Please, Mr. Postman

Harrisburg’s postmaster
doesn’t need to be begged;
he loves his job, even at 4 a.m.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:37 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When Jerry Niemeier got a call at 4 a.m. from a young man wanting to buy a duck stamp, Niemeier told him to come out to the house because he had an extra one in his wallet.

Niemeier doesn’t hunt — he is Harrisburg’s postmaster. But in this one-stop town, everyone knows his number.

“One advantage of working in a small town, you work 24/7,” said Niemeier, who will retire in January.

When Niemeier was hired as postmaster 23 years ago, he was required to live in the Harrisburg delivery area. He sees this as an advantage.

“If I hear about a problem, I beat them on the street and iron it out,” he said.

But Niemeier doesn’t know everyone in Harrisburg anymore. Since he started working at the town’s post office in 1980, one rural route evolved into two.

Twenty-three years ago, Harrisburg’s postal delivery area had roughly 350 customers; now it has more than 700.

“I’d estimate about 40 new homes got put up this year,” Niemeier said. “Up until five or six years ago, I thought I knew everyone in Harrisburg.”

The growth of the small town in northwestern Boone County is evident by the steady stream of southbound traffic on Route E during morning rush hour.

“A few of us got lucky and got a job in town. The rest work in Columbia,” Niemeier joked.

In reality, Harrisburg is fast developing into a bedroom community, with more of the working population living south of town and working in Columbia.

“At one point, we had about 20 mailmen living in Harrisburg,” Niemeier said. “Most of them worked in Columbia.”

The only morning traffic jam, though, happens at a quarter past eight right outside the post office, at the entrance to the high school.

It lasts less than five minutes.

“Every junior who has a license feels like they need to drive to school,” Niemeier chuckled. It’s a given that the seniors drive.

Niemeier has a 16-year-old son, Zach, who goes to Harrisburg High School, and the postmaster takes a special interest in the school. When he retires, he wants to drive a school bus for Harrisburg.

“I’ve worked with Jerry on all kinds of projects in the school district,” said Bill View, the superintendent of Harrisburg’s schools. “He’s very active in the community.”

Niemeier is also involved in the Lions Club, which built a track on school property four years ago and recently poured a concrete floor in the town park’s covered pavilion. Niemeier is one of the main organizers of Septemberfest, which is an annual Lions Club festival that attracts former and current residents.

“You can’t find a harder worker on the Lions Club than Jerry,” View said.

Inside the post office, Jerry Niemeier hardly ever stops talking and rarely sits down. On a recent Monday morning, the mail truck was 45 minutes late, so Niemeier’s voice got an unusual break while sorting the mail.

Once the mail was sorted, Niemeier offered his daily safety talk to his two mail carriers: “Drive safely, stay out of the ditches and don’t run over any fools in between!”

His work is only interrupted when a customer walks in. Service with a smile becomes service with a laugh with Niemeier. He knows just about everyone who comes into the post office on a first-name basis.

“Hello, Kris!” Niemeier said without looking at the woman who just walked in.

“Eyes in the back of your head, Jerry,” Kris Toft said.

Niemeier struck up a conversation. Toft is an avid eBay user, and he coached her on buying a scale.

“We give a lot of personal service,” said Niemeier, who gave away half his lunch hour the other day because he was so absorbed in conversation.

“I’ve taken to telling him when I leave for lunch because once, I left him here and he missed half his lunch,” said Kathy Perrigo, a Harrisburg postal assistant.

When it comes to Harrisburg’s recent growth, however, Niemeier isn’t bothered.

“I would rather be in a growing community than one that was dying,” Niemeier said.

More people means more mail, which, in turn, means more money, so no one at the Harrisburg post office is complaining.

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