“There was a little girl named Candance who lived on Saratoga,” recalls long-time Lakewood mail carrier Skip Schoffner. “I watched her grow up. She would leave me notes in chalk on the driveway, and I would always write a note back to her.”
One day, Candace’s family sold their house and moved. Schoffner found an envelope left behind “that had been stuffed with something.”
“When I opened it up,” he says, “it was a piece of chalk…with a note telling me to use it to write letters to the next little girl that moved into the house.”
Schoffner describes experiences like these as the “benefits and perks” that have made his 35 years on the job worthwhile. Now he’s permanently parking his mail truck and entering retirement.
“I started at the original Lakewood station,” Schoffner says, “and I am the last of the crew from that original station to retire.”
Having spent the majority of his career in the same neighborhood gives Shoffner a unique perspective on Lakewood’s growth throughout the years.
“My first route was down on Columbia,” he says. “Back then, those houses were dumps you could buy for $3-4,000. Then, people started buying and refurbishing them, and now those houses sell for a lot of money.”
Schoffner remembers the streetcar that used to run along Columbia. In fact, it was often the way he transported the mail.
“Back then, there were only three or four vehicles to deliver mail. We could take a streetcar or bus, or relay the mail to get it out.”
With so few mail trucks, letter carriers would often use relay boxes in which a carrier with a vehicle would leave a mail sack for a carrier without a vehicle.
Schoffner has seen changes not just in the landscape of Lakewood, but also in the volume and type of mail he has delivered.
“Thirty years ago, almost every house subscribed to the major magazines,” he says. “Now you have a lot of catalogs to deliver, but you don’t deliver many magazines to residential areas.”
Schoffner also has seen a general decline in first class email, which he speculates may be a function of email, telephones, and cellular phones. But the biggest change he has witnessed is related to season’s greetings.
“Christmas cards are nothing compared to what they used to be,” he says. “People just aren’t sending them out like they used to. We would have to break up the routes and hire temporary people just to handle picking up and delivering all the extra mail during the holidays.”
During his time on our neighborhood streets, Schoffner came to know his customers, who repaid his hard work with cool drinks, cookies and conversation.
“You just can’t put a price on the hospitality I’ve been given throughout the years,” he says.
Still, Schoffner says there are real dangers associated with delivering mail. He has seen cars drive into buildings and jump curbs only a few feet away from him. A few years ago, he had a harrowing experience when he interrupted a robbery at a liquor store on his route.
“The guy pointed the gun at me,” Schoffner recalls, “and I tried to shift my mail bag to protect my chest.”
Just as things began to look grim, a customer entered the store, and the robber fled. Schoffner also says the much-cliched canine attacks are a very real danger.
“I’ve known a lot of guys who got hurt by dogs they never saw coming.”
Still, he cites Mother Nature as the worst enemy of the letter carrier: “Just remember, whether it’s iced over or 110 degrees, we’re going out, no matter what.”
Over the course of his career, Schoffner has received numerous awards and certificates. Many letters have been written on his behalf. He has made lasting friends he’ll continue to visit, although less formally now.
“I met Skip about 10 years ago,” says neighborhood Realtor George Sanchez, also co-owner of the Gold Rush Café on Skillman.
“I told him that I get there at 5:30 every morning, and he started meeting me there. I’d fix him breakfast, and we’d talk. He’s like a second dad to me.”
Schoffner made friends with other early-morning visitors to his favorite hangout, including an assortment of Deep Ellum bartenders and band members.
“Gosh, I’d sit and talk to all those guys with purple hair and pierced noses,” Shoffner says. “They always wanted to buy parts of my postal uniform to wear onstage – I guess it must be some kind of fad.”
“Skip has taken good care of Lakewood,” Sanchez says, “and he will definitely be missed. But I’ve been telling all my customers to watch out – once he gets featured in the Advocate, he’ll never leave us alone.”
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