Community Heroes: The Sapulpa Post Office

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Hannah Oswalt

A mother of an only child paces back and forth looking out the window every couple of minutes until the mail carrier arrives. It’s almost 12:13 pm—the same time the mail arrives every day, like clockwork. This mother’s son has been deployed overseas and she is awaiting a letter to hear of his safe arrival. The clock strikes 12:10 pm and she rushes out to the mailbox to await her usual postal worker. A few minutes later, there he is, and the mother has never been so elated to see someone in her entire life. They exchange pleasantries and she shares her concern for her son which is alleviated once she tears open the envelope and reads the words, “Dear mom, I’ve arrived safely.” 

This week’s community heroes are the employees of the Sapulpa Post Office. First, meet Milton Gray. 

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Milton Gray stands near his delivery truck before heading out to deliver the mail. Hannah Oswalt Photo.

Gray has been with the post office for 24 years. He originally started the job because it was a good career and it ended up changing his life and his family‘s life. When asked to elaborate on what he meant by it changed his life he said he was able to help his mother, a single mom who raised five kids. His mother passed away a couple of years ago, but he still teared up as he talked about her; it was obvious he had a deep love and respect for the woman who had always encouraged him and was so proud of him for getting a job with the local post office—a job he says he loves. “What I love about it is just the customers,” he said. “I had the opportunity to go to a Tulsa program, I just didn’t want to—I got a good route and good people.”

Gray described his day, going over his vehicle according to a checklist, and then he puts up his mail. He says his biggest focus is on getting out to the streets in an efficient time especially given that he has one of the largest routes. “Just getting out there and doing it the best I can in a safe manner,” he said.

And yes, that old adage about a postal worker always delivering the mail—rain or shine—is true: “Rain sleet or snow, you just got to go, you know,” he says. “It may slow you down…you just have to get out there and get it done.”  

All in all, Gray’s favorite quote really sums up how he takes care of his position as the senior mail carrier: “I can, and I will.”

Jim Stabler, Sapulpa’s Postmaster, described Milton Gray as “an absolutely great guy.”

“When I got here, he was the junior regular. And I was a brand new employee,” Stabler said. “He was very helpful to me, and that was in 1998. He was always very helpful, very kind.”

As postmaster, Stabler oversees all of the administrative responsibilities, from hiring and paperwork to ensuring that the building and equipment get maintenance and making schedules. “You kind of wear a lot of hats instead of just ‘master,’” he said. “One moment you’re fixing a flat tire and the next moment you have to be a computer IT person and it can change from moment to moment.”

From left: Brad Burns, Jim Stabler, Rikki Mosimann. Hannah Oswalt Photo.

Stabler says that one of the main types of interference they get with mail delivery is animal interference. “We have at least two or three dog attacks every couple of weeks. They’re not necessarily a full-blown attack, but it’s interference, to where my carrier might get out of their truck, then they see a dog roaming, well, then they just get back in their truck and move to the next wing. And they’ll come back to that neighborhood later, in hopes that the dog is put back up or moved on or something.” 

Stabler wasn’t sure carrying the mail was going to be his career, but it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the job. ”I was just like, why didn’t I do this from the get-go, you know? It was just so fulfilling to take a full truck out to deliver and come back with an empty truck. And knowing that I had delivered everyone’s mail that day was exciting, I always swore I’d come back and be postmaster here if I ever got the opportunity. I’m just so thankful to be here.”

Stabler says that though he doesn’t move mail any longer, he still carries the gravity of the responsibility of the post office on his shoulders. “Ultimately, it falls on my shoulders to make sure that the mail gets delivered every day to our customers. Because our customers are why we’re here.”

Stabler says the hardest part of his job is having customers upset that he can’t do anything for. “Sometimes a customer will perpetually like leave their dog out or have their mailbox blocked at all times and we can’t get the mail to them,” he said. “And then they don’t understand why we can’t just maneuver around their pet or maneuver around their parked vehicle in front of their mailbox and we will just hold their mail until they get everything situated and sometimes they get pretty upset.”

According to Stabler, being “people-driven” is critical to the industry. “We don’t know what we’re delivering,” he says. “It could be anything from an important document for their family, or birth certificate or tickets to the OU game. We try to handle every piece as though it’s the most important thing in that person’s life. And I always tell my employees, ‘always deliver mail as though you’re delivering it to yourself.’”

Although he hopes to inspire more people to work for the post office, he admits that it’s not a job for everybody. “Carrying mail is a pretty rugged business,” he said. “Even separating the mail, the morning clerks, they come in early in the morning—two or three in the morning—and start separating mail out and then they keep pretty tough schedules…there’s not a cush job here, let’s put it that way. Everybody here is pretty tough; I always tell my family that I work with the toughest people in the world … They go out every day in all kinds of weather to deal with a whole lot that the public probably wouldn’t see whether they’re walking through a yard and step on a yard tool, step in a hole or have the random dog attack—August is the month where we have lots of our carriers get stung by wasps—but these carriers just keep going. They’ll come in from their route and say ‘oh, by the way, I got stung in the face three times today.’”

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