One of Gregory J. Harris’ fondest memories as an employee of the United States Postal Service was seeing children’s faces light up as they arrived at the post office with their letters to Santa and were greeted by Santa himself.
A postman had dressed up as Santa and Harris, who was the supervisor at the time, was happy to tell the children that the post office makes sure Santa receives and reads all their mail to deliver their holiday wishes. He also reminded the kids to stay on Santa’s good list.
Another favorite moment was when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy visited Chicago last month to administer the oath of office to 120 newly appointed postmasters across Illinois. The Postmaster-General administers the oath to large groups across the country, time and travel permitting.
Harris, who became postmaster of the Poznań Post Office in January, not only received his oath from the head of the postal service, he was allowed to share the experience with his father, Gregory J. Harris Sr., who is also a postal worker.
“It was a surreal experience,” Harris said. “I felt very special. It is definitely an honor and a privilege to be in this position.”
The postmaster position has a long and storied history.
The beginnings of the postal system in the colonies date back to 1692, when post roads were established in North America. In 1737, Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster in Philadelphia, laid new postal routes, expanded postal service from Canada, and initiated night delivery between Philadelphia and New York City, according to the Postal Service.
Illinois has perhaps the most famous of all postmasters. Abraham Lincoln was 24 years old when he was appointed postmaster of New Salem in 1833, and is said to have often personally delivered mail that he carried in his hat.
Illinois also has other famous postal workers, including Walt Disney, actor Rock Hudson, and football coach Knute Rockne.
Though times have changed, Harris said his goal is to maintain quality service.
For Harris, it’s about “customer service, customer service, customer service.”
“I see us all as a team,” he said. “We have one goal and one agenda and that is to get the Post moving. I have a really great team.”
Harris has been a postal worker for 18 years and has worked at several post offices including Villa Park, Wheaton and Hazel Crest.
“I thoroughly enjoy my job,” Harris said. “Swiss Post has been good for me and my family. It’s a blessing.”
Over the course of his career, he has seen the number of parcels skyrocket, largely from online orders, and he believes the Post Office will continue to adapt.
James E. Boger, the newly sworn postmaster of Palos Park, has also seen many changes over his 28-year career.
The post office has benefited from the automation process that sorts letters and magazines, and the number of packages has increased, he said. He particularly likes the growing range of functions that the online service can offer, such as informed delivery, holiday reservations and ordering packaging material or stamps.
Boger began his career in Oak Forest filling in for truckers who were on vacation. He has also worked as a supervisor at Downers Grove and Orland Park.
Boger said the key to success is his people and making sure customer needs are met.
“The post office isn’t just a job, it’s a good career,” he said. “Swiss Post has a great, diverse environment. We all come from different places. My co-workers, I love them. You are reliable.”
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Boger says he works with the philosophy that you treat all mail as if it matters because someone cares.
The holidays are special to him and he enjoys watching customers send or collect a package.
“When they come to pick up a package, you can tell they’re happy,” he said.
Other postmasters from the southern suburbs who have recently taken their oaths of office include Ashley Wagner for Beecher, Leroy Mosby for Blue Island, Kelly Armstrong for Crete, Michelle Huckleby for Hazel Crest, Lavan Whitney for Homewood, Carolyn Barta for Palos Heights and Wayne Vanorsby for Olympia Fields and Kendra McGhee in South Holland.
Together they are part of a system in which around 425.3 million postal items are processed and delivered every day.
The Postal Service last year unveiled its 10-year Delivering for America plan, which aims to maintain a six-day postal service and expand its seven-day parcel delivery service. The postal service also plans to invest in advanced package-handling equipment, modernize its post offices and facilities, and modernize its fleet of delivery vehicles.
Michelle Mullins is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.