Retiring Mail Carrier's to-do list Includes Trip to Hall

Retiring Mail Carrier's to-do list Includes Trip to Hall

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By Jodi Schwan
Reprinted with permission

On the last day of his career, a Sioux Falls mail carrier’s customers delivered for him.

Block after block in the Tuthill neighborhood was covered Thursday in balloons, blue-wrapped mailboxes and yard signs.

“Congrats, Lance, on your retirement,” one read.

“We will miss you!” another said.

Lance more than earned it, said neighborhood resident Jordin Edwards.

“He made our son feel like he was the favorite delivery of the day, saying ‘There’s my buddy!’ and always stopped at the driveway to give our son a high five and ask him what he was up to that day,” she said.

On Halloween, a little toy arrived in the mailbox.

At Christmas, there were treats.

“When I was on maternity leave, holding the baby, he helped bring a heavy package into the landing,” Edwards said.

“He just cared, showed kindness every day and was genuinely passionate about his job and the families he delivered for. And it obviously wasn’t just us based on the neighborhood response.”

So on Thursday, Edwards and her neighborhood gave back to their mail carrier as he worked the route one last time.

Street after street, they marked the occasion. Some even hung gifts from their mailboxes. One family walked the neighborhood wrapping boxes, but it was largely an organic effort as neighbors spontaneously turned each stop into a mini-celebration.

“2020 has delivered some blows, but this effort gave me a lot of hope,” Edwards said.

“We didn’t even know his last name, but it will be so bittersweet not having that couple minutes of joy from Lance every day.”

It’s Darland. Lance Darland. A nearly 28-year veteran of the United States Postal Service who still can’t quite process what happened yesterday.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said Friday from his longtime home in the Hilltop neighborhood on the east side of Sioux Falls.

“It was a good day and a sad day and a great day all wrapped up in one.”

In a lot of ways, this was Darland’s dream job.

When he grew up in Deadwood, his mother worked for the Postal Service, and jobs there were hard to get. He worked in a lot of restaurants before moving to Sioux Falls, where he got married and ended up landing a temporary position at the Postal Service in October 1992.

“I finally got my shot to get a job,” he said.

And he made the most of it. Darland took a clerical job at the Postal Service the following year “to get a foot in the door as a career employee,” he said.

That meant processing one piece of mail every second to record part of a ZIP code.

He liked carrying “much better,” so he put in for a transfer the following year and has been on a route ever since.

His last one – which ran east of Cliff Avenue, north of 49th Street and over to Spencer Boulevard – included just over 400 homes. Darland estimates he regularly caught up with “a good 75 to 80 percent” of those residents.

“Some it’s a quick hello, and others come to the box and talk a little more,” he said. “You get to know them. You get to watch the kids grow up. I love dogs, which is a fortunate thing in my business.”

When the pandemic hit, many people began staying inside. There weren’t as many conversations by the mailbox. It was enough to make him feel a little down.

“And then I saw three kids just playing, and I thought, OK, the world is OK,” he said.

“Between the dogs and the kids and the adults, they help keep you balanced. There were a couple little kids that kind of stole my heart. They’d always be wide-eyed, and you kind of let them see the truck, and they thought that was the coolest thing ever.”

He had thought about retiring earlier this year, but some family needs convinced him to earn a bit more and stick around.

On Thursday, Sioux Falls Postmaster Larry Michels called his team outside, spaced them out in the parking lot and gave them the news most of them had already guessed: It was Darland’s last day.

“Everybody gave him a round of applause, and I said a few words, and Lance spoke to the group and read a card from one of the residents on his route … and it was very touching,” Michels said.

“Lance is one of those I would call a star employee. He’s one of those employees who has great character whether he was in the office or on the street.”


Larry Michels (left) thanks retiring Lance Darland (right).

Darland rarely missed work and took great pride in it, Michels said.

“The customers loved him,” he added.

“We’ve had carriers retire all the time but nothing like this. He must have been very special to his customers.”

The feeling was mutual, Darland said.

“You become part of the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a service job, whether people realize it or not. I feel like I’m doing a service to those people. I feel like they’re more my boss than my bosses because without them we wouldn’t be around.”

And speaking of being the boss, that never really appealed to him. He passed on conversations about becoming a supervisor but did hold leadership roles in his union, including president and vice president.

“At times there were people who may have been more combative, but I’ve tried to get along and find common ground, and it seems like in this day and age that’s harder to do,” he said.

“I’ve done some duties where I worked on route adjustments across the state of South Dakota, and I’d be in an office working at a computer, and I don’t like it very well. I just enjoy being out on the street.”

Those last deliveries got a little emotional, he acknowledged. As he dropped off mail, he often left with a card for himself.

“Knowing they cared about you so much, it’s special,” he said. “It was very cool. I enjoyed the day, and yet it was still a little overwhelming.”

In retirement, he plans to tackle a “to do” list from his wife, spend time with their adult son and daughter, and hopefully work in a fishing trip to Alaska and a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio.

“I have customers who have hinted they might like me to contact them about stuff to do in retirement,” he said. “I’d like to go from ‘I gotta’ to ‘I wanna.’ I do want to find something that interests me and do it part time.”

He didn’t do the job the way he did it for the accolades that came at the end, he emphasized.

But he acknowledges they could help send a broader message on behalf of his longtime employer.

“I just hope the general public understands and realizes the purpose of the Postal Service and that they give us enough support,” Darland said.

“I know changes need to be made. But I just need the general public to know there are many postal workers, clerks, mail handlers who still really, really care about doing the right thing and doing the job well.”

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