Darlene Ward, who won the title of best postal worker upwards of 10 times in the Best of Nisqually contest, retired from her position at the Yelm Post Office on Nov. 30 after having worked there since 2004.
Ward said all the support she received from community members when they heard of her retirement was “overwhelming.” She received gifts, high fives and hundreds of comments on her recent retirement social media post.
“I was very overwhelmed,” Ward said. “It gives me joy to know that people felt the same way about me as I do about them.”
For most of her time with the post office, she worked in customer service. Ward said she primarily worked the front counter as she helped people mail their packages, find their mail and establish mail delivery.
As a self-described “interactive” and “personable” person, Ward said people said she’s never met a stranger.
“It’s the customers (I like),” she said. “I have seen little kids grow up. As a matter of fact, the other day, when I was sharing with a customer that I was retiring, this young man — I believe he was 16 or 17 — said, ‘You can’t do that. You’re all I know at the post office.’”
Ward said she has hugged and cried with people who lost spouses or children and celebrated with people when they accomplished something that made them proud.
“When our local police officer was killed, I cried with his wife many times,” Ward said. “She would come in and get the mail and there are probably a lot of people in town who have no idea who she is.”
Ward has a warm place in her heart for the people she met with special or physical needs, she said.
One man, who would rarely say anything to her at all, brought a card for her the last time she saw him, because Ward meant so much to him.
Another man had a severe war injury. She saw him gain in strength and ability over the years, Ward said.
“One gentleman, he came back from Iraq and he had gotten hit by an IUD. I don’t remember the total story,” she said. “He came in in a wheelchair and he is now walking, talking. He still has some effects of his injury, but when he came in I would tell him, ‘You’re just a walking miracle.’”
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have sort of framed her experience with the post office, Ward said, since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred during her first year in the postal service. She worked at the Centralia office at the time.
“I was in the basement when the planes hit the tower,” she said. “I had no idea until other people started coming in to work. I started work at five in the morning and kept kind of quiet until everyone came, so I had no idea what had happened.”
Ward said she found out when people started coming in. When they told her about what happened that day in New York and Washington, D.C., she was astounded.
“I was in the basement, in my own little world, my own little shelter, and then when they got there we of course turned the radio on,” Ward said. “It was probably until three o’clock in the afternoon before I got to see anything on television or hear any actual news.”
She left her role at the post office in the year when the troops came home from Afghanistan.
In the end, Ward said her decision to retire was two-fold.
“Literally, my body was about to break down. I hurt all the time,” Ward said. “I wore out my shoulder … and my chosen mother needs help at her house, so I’ll be helping her. (Retirement) is the best Christmas present I ever gave myself.”
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