A cheerful woman stood behind the counter at the U.S. post office in Columbia helping a mother and her two kids send a package. One of the kids ran around, much to the annoyance of his mother.
“Would you like some stickers?” Ellen Schlie asked the boy. “If you come here, sit quietly, you can have one.”
The child took the stickers and sat quietly next to his mother. She then looked to Schlie and thanked her for helping with both her mail and her restless child.
Ellen Schlie is a longtime postal clerk on the front line of a steady stream of customers who need to buy stamps, mail a package, rent a P.O. box, change their address or secure a passport.
But helping postal customers is not all she is enthusiastic about.
Schlie is a serious nature enthusiast. She keeps a tent in her car year-round and never passes up an opportunity to camp. As one may expect, she is also an extensive traveler and has lived in both New York state and San Diego, California.
Her latest goal is to acquire a kayak to explore another interest.
“I am really close to saving up to buy one, and after that I am going to get a new Honda Pilot,” Schlie said. “I am probably going to go on a trip with all the camping stuff, so I can stop wherever I want.”
In 2016, Schlie embarked on what she calls her favorite road trip — a 1,600 mile drive from Columbia to the state of California. She cruised along Interstate 80 until she reached the West Coast, then headed south to visit her daughter in Palm Desert. She then meandered home to go back to work in Columbia.
“I’d camp one day and stay the next day in a hotel, so I could take showers,” Schlie said. “I had a lot of fun and I met a bunch of weird people. One day I was just sitting on the beach and this dog just walked up to me and I said to him, ‘Would you like to lay down?’ So this dog came and took a nap on the blanket I was sitting on, and this guy came by and sort of freaked out that his dog was just hanging out.”
Schlie also loves music, particularly blues, jazz and bluegrass. She frequents live concerts whenever she can, and as a single woman, Schlie said she has no issue chilling out at gigs by herself. The Kay Brothers and local band the Bel Airs are her favorite artists.
“You shouldn’t feel afraid to go into a venue as a woman by yourself and you don’t have to be in a group to go do things,” Schlie said. “And that’s what I want to teach people.”
Independence is nothing new to Schlie. She grew up in Middleton, New York, about an hour north of New York City. She later moved to Buffalo in 1975 for college.
Deciding college wasn’t for her, Schlie packed up in November of the same year and headed for Los Angeles with a friend. She eventually worked her way down the coast to settle in San Diego. There, Schlie met her first husband, Steven, and started a family. The Schlies then moved to southern Boone County to care for her husband’s ailing family.
To get a job with benefits, Schlie began working at the mail distribution center at the Columbia Regional Airport, operating a letter-sorting machine in 1986. She eventually divorced in 1995 and moved to Columbia. She then transferred to work in the central post office on Walnut Street.
Schlie has worked for the post office for the last 32 years, and she brings her shining personality with her to work each day. Her happiness and love of others is noticed by coworkers and customers alike.
Shaun Smith, the customer service supervisor for the local post office, has known Schlie for over four years and speaks positively of her attitude.
“Ellen is eternally cheerful and great to work with,” Smith said. “She is always willing to go the extra mile for practically anyone. And I do mean anyone.”
Schlie speaks of having seen several people in dire straits over the years, and she never has an issue helping them out. Schlie said she doesn’t do it for attention and never expects to be paid back.
“I’ve had people that come in and I can see people who are struggling. I had one girl who couldn’t make a payment on her P.O. box. So, I just paid for it,” Schlie said. “I say to people when you’re back on your feet, go do it for someone else.”
Schlie not only aims to be positive, but she also hopes people will eventually go out and seek happiness on their own.
“Just go follow your passions. Don’t stay in your crappy job. Go take that road trip. Don’t be stuck in the mud,” Schlie said. “If your life is that awful, you need to change it. Do not wait for happiness to come to you. Go find it.”