New face at post office window in Spring Valley

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE New Spring Valley Postmaster Gary Brolsma said he feels fortunate to work in a building that he calls an architectural treasure in a town where people find time to chat.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Gary Brolsma wants to do windows on an inside job. 

Patrons probably have already encountered the new Spring Valley postmaster at the post office window since he arrived in mid-March after a 13-year supervisory position at the Austin Post Office. 

“I enjoy the people.  That’s what’s really special about being here,” Brolsma said. “I get to work the window and talk to people a little bit – it’s not all business.  When I was a supervisor, the only time I got to go to the window was when there was a problem that needed to be fixed.”

The Austin resident admits that his postal career has come with some envy of clerks and carriers, as the clerks work directly with the public, and the carriers get to be outside on 70-degree springtime days – though he also admits on those 70-degree days, “the carriers have got it nice, but when it’s 20 below or there’s a deluge, I’m glad I’ve got an inside job.” 

The coffee pot’s always on in his office, ready to warm up the carriers he greatly admires for their perseverance or to start a chat with office staff, people he appreciates as well. 

“This is a slower pace, it’s quieter,” he said. “I went from working with 50-some people down to about a dozen, and the people in this office are very nice people.  The town’s lucky to have them.”       

He has his mother to thank for his current employment. She was postmaster in his “hometown of about 360 people – that’s in its heyday – and she told me I should try to get into the postal service.  I don’t really remember what I wanted to be when I was a kid, but I took the test, didn’t put my heart into it.  But in hindsight, I probably should have done that.”

His mother ended up with about 30 years of service. She substitute-carried, worked in the office on Saturday mornings and covered when the postmaster was out of town. She was postmaster for four or five years before she retired. When she wasn’t at the post office, she was bookkeeper for a rural gas station.

Before Brolsma arrived at the Austin and Spring Valley post offices, he’d done some of the same duties his mother had as he earned his way to small-town comfort here in Spring Valley. Prior to Austin, he was a clerk in Dodge Center, and “I shopped myself around to other offices to try to pick up extra hours,” he said.

Brolsma is fascinated by the power of two quarters and a nickel, the spare change that it takes to buy a stamp that sends letters, house payments, wedding invitations and more from one end of the country to the other. 

“It’s amazing how the system works for 55 cents a letter,” he said. “You can’t beat that.” 

He’s pleased to be stationed in the Spring Valley post office, a place he feels is an architectural treasure, and taking on a role that he hopes will be his last. 

“I’ve decided that this is my retirement job.  I plan to stay here until I decide to hang it up and go home,” Brolsma said. “The coffee pot’s always on, and there are a few things that I’ll probably do a little differently than the past ones have.  There’s been a good track record of able-bodied postmasters, and they’ve left me big shoes to fill.  We have our regulations, but we all have our little quirks, too.  I’m going to be as accessible as I can. 

“At this point, I don’t go out of the office a whole lot, but I’m thinking that at some point, I might get involved in the community.  I’m a pretty easygoing fella, and it’s my hope that at the end of the day, everything got where it was supposed to go.  Unfortunately, in the real world, it’s not 100 percent possible.  I feel sorry for people who ship things overseas because once it’s out of our hands, the USPS only reaches so far.  But I like when people come in and they’re supposed to have a package that’s not here yet – we have the ability to track it – and maybe the carrier delivered it a block away.  When the package gets there, they call us and they’re so happy to have it.  That perks me up and rejuvenates me.”

Presently, Brolsma is still learning people’s names as he greets them at the window, but he’d like to be able to recognize his postal patrons when he’s walking down the street, or someday, after retirement, meet them as friends for coffee.  He’s taken a little ribbing from one of his Austin post office friends who sees him enjoying the smaller town and the less-hectic atmosphere. 

“It’s 30 miles here from Austin, but of all the other jobs in town, I’m glad I’m here.  I keep telling a friend who’s a postmaster in Austin, ‘You’ve got to get yourself a gig like this, man.’  I know that the biggest supporters behind me outside of the office since I started almost 15 years ago have been my family,” he said. “They saw some jobs that I did that I wasn’t happy doing, but this job is a good one, and the good ones far outweigh the bad ones.  Now that I’m postmaster, the job is pretty much Monday through Friday.  I love to ride motorcycle, so I do ride to work sometimes.  I like it when someone just mowed some hay…that’s the good thing about the commute.  It’s a nice drive, and I kind of enjoy it.”

Postal patrons might see Brolsma’s bike parked behind the post office, even on the occasional rainy day, because riding’s what he likes doing in his free time. His wife also likes to ride motorcycle. When they want to go for ice cream, for example, instead of staying in Austin, they jump on their cycles and ride out of town. They also ride for fundraisers, too, which they enjoy because they get to meet people that way. 

“It’s a great way to forget everything, going for a ride,” he said. 

His son recently married, so he has a daughter-in-law and inherited a new grandson all in one shot. 

“I want to spend time with him and take him fishing, spend time with the family now that my schedule is mostly Monday to Friday, though we do like to go camping at the KOA about 10 miles out of Austin,”Brolsma said. “Over the years, the family has gone, and I’ve met them when I’ve gotten off work, depending on which shift I was working.” 

He concluded that he’s quite comfortable doing windows on his inside job, saying, “I’m happy to be here. It’s so much more relaxed here than a bigger office.”