When we think about community, it’s hard not to be nostalgic. The word evokes a sense of warmth and togetherness, conjuring up archetypes from The Andy Griffith Show and The Saturday Evening Post—the kindly cop, the respectable mayor, the jolly postman; these are the characters that fill us with wistful affection, and though we might not be as tightknit as, say, the citizens of Mulberry, the recurring characters in our real life communities provide us continuity, security, and comfort.
“Everyone knows the mail carrier,” says Kate Bahr, who worked for the US Post Office in Great Falls for 31 years. “For eighteen years, I delivered to the Riverview community. I got to know people. I always said hi. I became a part of that neighborhood.”
As a regular face in the neighborhood, Kate wasn’t just “the mail lady,” but was instead known as a woman who was kind, jovial, and trustworthy. Customers on her 11.7-mile route could expect her arrival around the same time each day, and many looked forward to some friendly conversation with her delivery.
“Especially retired people like that continuity,” says Kate. “When I went on vacation, that’d always be a concern of theirs. ‘Who’s delivering my mail?’ They’d ask my sub. ‘When’s Kate coming back?’”
Richie Greenwood is similarly well-recognized in Great Falls, particularly in the downtown area. As a UPS package driver, he developed and maintained relationships with his customers for nearly three decades.
“I had the downtown route for 26 years,” he explains. “Probably eighty percent of the businesses I delivered to every day. Over time, you develop quite the relationship.”
Richie says that when you have the same person coming in and out of the door for a long time, it eliminates stress that can come with receiving deliveries. As that trust is built, you know when the packages are going to arrive, where they’ll be placed, and that if something is wrong, it’ll be promptly rectified.
“That trust goes a long way,” says Richie.
Kate explains that sometimes that trust goes beyond the job. As a breast cancer survivor, she offered encouragement to a customer who was going through cancer treatment herself. When an elderly customer didn’t pick up the prior day’s mail as usual, she’d ask a neighbor about them to make sure all was well.
“I loved my customers and they loved me,” she says. “I never had to make cookies at Christmas. I received I don’t even know how many scarves. Sometimes kids would leave candy or drawings or Pokémon cards in the mailbox for me. That always meant a lot.”
Kate adds that she watched many of the children on her route grow into adults, and that being a part—even if only a small part—of someone’s life for that long is truly incredible. Richie echoes the sentiment.
“When you show up to a place every day, I think people look forward to it and enjoy it,” he says. “I enjoyed it.”
Both he and Kate have retired from their respective careers, but they say they still see their customers from time to time.
Of course, Kate and Richie don’t call them “customers” anymore. Now, they just call them “friends.”