In rain, sleet, hail or snow, the mail has got to go, but Danny O’Connor, Gardner, won’t be delivering it anymore.
O’Connor retired on June 30 after 18 years as a postal carrier.
The job isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding.
“Working for the U.S. Postal Service isn’t a cherry job,” he said. “They expect tomorrow’s job to be done yesterday. We provide a service, and we need to provide the best possible service.”
O’Connor grew up in Gardner, the son of Jack and Leone O’Connor. After graduating from Gardner High School in 1971, he set out to become a disc jockey. After taking a three-month broadcasting class, he received several job offers, but they required working midnight to 8 a.m. in small market towns.
By 1972, he was carefully watching the military draft.
“In 1972, they drew lottery numbers. My number was 238, so I knew I was pretty safe and that I wasn’t going to get drafted,” he said.
He decided to go to college, attending Kansas State Teacher’s College, now Emporia State University for two years, before getting a job working for the railroad. Then he decided to finish college and go to the University of Kansas to get a journalism broadcasting degree.
He took the advice of one of his KU professors and decided to study newspapers and get a job selling newspaper advertising.
In his first career, he sold advertising for the Chicago Sun-Times and later, for TV Guide, He worked at TV Guide for 10 years and then for Discover Magazine in Chicago.
“That didn’t last long,” he said. “Discover’s publisher got fired and I was out of that job.”
O’Connor returned to Gardner, thinking he’d stay with his parents for a short time.
“I thought, alright. I’ll just be there a couple of months until I could save a couple hundred thousand dollars,” O’Connor joked.
He earned a spot as a casual, or temporary carrier, in 1994. That gig lasted six months, but O’Connor liked the work. He took the postal career test in 1997, and in January of 1998, the post office had a job for him.
“I was a clerk, which was unbelievably unusual,” O’Connor said.
Typically, postal employees worked years before landing a job as a clerk, but O’Connor didn’t really like it.
“I changed craft and became a letter carrier,” he said.
He wasn’t full-time. It was a part-time flex job without guaranteed hours. Eventually, he was able to land a full-time gig and a regular route in Gardner.
Many of his customers were people who knew his parents.
“I was guaranteed a good opportunity to prove my wares as a postman,” O’Connor said.
Though the U.S. Post Office is dedicated to delivering mail on time, O’Connor said his goal was getting mail to the right place.
“I wanted to make sure the mail was delivered accurately,” he said. “I felt like I nailed it perfectly.”
His Gardner route entailed delivering mail in an eight mile radius. He walked about five miles each day.
“People were kind,” he said. “The kids were sweet, and at Christmas time, people were so sweet to give cookies. When I retired, they were very generous.”
Customers on the walking part of his route would offer him cold drinks in the summer and coffee or hot chocolate in the winter.
On June 30, the day he retired, 16 families on one section of his route created a giant card.
“I was really touched by the fact that they thought enough to make a card and the neighbors all signed it,” he said.
Though he liked the people, some of the wildlife was a challenge. Specifically, O’Connor said he won’t really miss dog bites, spider webs or dive bombing birds.
In his early days, he recalls one home where he was swooped by a Blue jay.
“That particular house, the dog would start barking, and then the Blue jay swooped me,” O’Connor said. “I really felt like the Blue jay was coming to the aid of the dog.”
At another house on south Hickory, another Blue jay drew blood.
“He swooped down and hit me in the head,” O’Connor said. “As soon as I realized I was bleeding, I packed up my bag and went back to the office.”
He earned five dog bites and one spider bite while delivering mail.
He jokes that the second dog that bit him started foaming at the mouth and then the dog died.
O’Connor jokes a lot, especially about the challenges of delivering mail. Though he plans to spend the rest of the summer lying by the pool, in the fall, he intends to substitute teach and eventually, try his hand at stand-up comedy.
“I’ve got a two or three minute gig based on being a post man,” he said. “I just have to get up the gumption to do it.”
Gardner postman hangs up letter carrier’s bag after nearly 18 years