Nearly 46 years after starting 'temp' job, Mabel Galvin to retire from Duluth post officeWhen Mabel Galvin started working for the U.S. Postal Service, it was to be a temporary, two-week job to help get through the Christmas rush. Just short of 46 years later, Galvin is set to retire on Oct. 1.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
When Mabel Galvin started working for the U.S. Postal Service, it was to be a temporary, two-week job to help get through the Christmas rush.
Just short of 46 years later, Galvin is set to retire on Oct. 1 from that “temporary” job. Postal officials can’t say for certain, but they believe she’ll leave as the longest-serving Duluth postal employee.
She’s leaving with mixed feelings.
“The hard part — and I probably would have gone sooner — but it’s hard to leave my customers,” said Galvin, 70, who is widely known to regulars at the Mount Royal post office. “When I’d think about it, I’d start to cry.”
The feeling is shared, said Nadine Fuxa of the Hunters Park neighborhood, who often goes to the Mount Royal station to send packages to her out-of-town daughter and grandchildren.
“She will be missed by a lot of people,” Fuxa said. “The people she works with, I think, are going to feel a real absence. She seems like she lifts everybody’s spirits.”
Dick Rowson, 63, who has worked at the Mount Royal station since 1991, affirms that.
“I’m going to miss her,” Rowson said. “I’m sure a lot of the customers will miss her. Management’s going to miss her because they’re going to discover that she did a lot of smaller things behind the scenes that nobody else was thinking about doing.”
Postmaster Arby Humphrey said he has noticed.
“Mabel obviously enjoys what she does, and it shows in the way that she treats her customers and her fellow employees,” Humphrey said. “She enjoys serving others, and she’s dedicated her life to the Postal Service.”
Yet Galvin wasn’t entirely welcome when she started her postal career in 1966. Galvin was living where she lives now, in Lower Chester Park, with children ages 3½ and 1½ at home. A card came in the mail saying the Postal Service was looking for new employees. She took the Civil Service exam, passed and was hired for that two-week gig. She was one of three women hired at that time; a group of four women had been hired previously. Some male employees felt threatened by the women, she said.
“Especially the older men,” Galvin added. “They thought the women were going to take over their jobs. And so therefore we were called ‘skirts.’ ”
A supervisor called her in on short notice for an orientation session. When she pointed out that she had had to find a babysitter, the supervisor said, “ ‘Listen, if you’re going to work here you have to have a baby sitter.’ Well, he’s calling me on the spur of the moment.” And it turned out the orientation was identical to training she already had taken.
Galvin started work at the main post office, which at that time was in the federal building downtown. All of the restrooms were for men, so the women had to take a key, walk down to the basement and traverse a long hallway to get to a restroom, she said.
At that time she didn’t drive, and buses didn’t run early enough to get her to work at 5 a.m. Sometimes she’d catch a ride from another woman, but often she walked the two miles. She often was given a split shift, working from 5-7 a.m. and then reporting to another
facility at noon.
“I thought they were trying to get rid of me, because I was the only one that didn’t drive a car, and I was the one they were giving these odd schedules to,” Galvin said. “Well, some men here did not like women being here.”
It was hard work, Galvin said. She had to lift sacks of catalogs weighing up to 80 pounds. But she had spent the first 12 years of her life on a farm in North Dakota, cleaning the barn and feeding horses and cows.
Galvin was called back after those first two weeks and persevered, mostly working night shifts. Child care wasn’t available, so she had to hire baby sitters. She moved to the new main post office when it opened in 1971. She said it felt like a vacation when she moved to Mount Royal in 1985, working days and serving customers.
She has done that for the past 27 years, becoming known to customers for a caring attitude along with efficient, excellent work, Fuxa said.
She also decorates the customer-service area and sometimes dresses up for holidays.
“It is really, really decorated here during holidays,” said Rowson, who also dresses in costume for Halloween. “When you come in here, there’s stuff all over the walls and the shelves — just an enormous amount of stuff.”
Along the way, Galvin was divorced twice and raised three children almost on her own. All are professionals: Randall Benson, 49, is a math teacher in St. Paul; Renee Benson, 47, is a registered nurse in Grand Marais; and Dr. Mark Suojanen, 40, is in the third year of his residency at the Toledo (Ohio) Medical Center.
“It was a lot of stress on her,” Suojanen said. “She had to take care of three kids and work full time as long as I can remember.”
‘Can’t sit Still’
All of that lifting earlier in her career has given Galvin back problems, which is one of the reasons she gave for retiring. She also said she’d love to be able to spend time at home in the morning, drinking coffee and reading the paper.
But it doesn’t sound like she’ll have much time to do that.
One of the “Four Grandmas of Fifth Street” who led the successful fight to save the Lower Chester Park hockey rink, she continues to provide volunteer gardening at the park. She’s looking forward to more opportunities for ballroom dancing and ’50s rock ’n’ roll dancing with her boyfriend. She hopes to visit Ireland to research family history. She plans to work part time for at least a couple of years. And she’s thinking of auditing some classes at the University of Minnesota Duluth or possibly even working toward a degree.
“I’ve encouraged her (to do that),” Suojanen said. “She’s a person who can’t sit still. I worry (that) when she retires, she’d get bored.”
Galvin said she’d like to earn a degree for the sake of her grandchildren, ages 21, 14 and 9.
“Wouldn’t that be a good example for my grandchildren to have, to come to Grandma’s graduation from college?” she asked.
But in spite of all that to look forward to, there’s no mistaking the pangs Galvin feels about leaving.
“I guess I wouldn’t say there’s a lot I don’t like about my job,” she said. “I really have a good job. And it’s what we make it. I’ve tried to make it really good.”