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Beloved letter carrier's mail route changes, despite effort in Old Southeast

Herman Edwards delivers mail in the Old Southeast. When folks there heard he was being reassigned, they began a campaign to keep him. His new route adds and drops a few streets.

LUIS PEREZ | Times

Herman Edwards delivers mail in the Old Southeast. When folks there heard he was being reassigned, they began a campaign to keep him. His new route adds and drops a few streets.

ST. PETERSBURG

People in the neighborhood know him as Herman. He knows which of their children are in college, who doesn't mind if you walk on the lawn, who might be a prowler and who just moved in next door.

He has been with them for seven years. And even though he lives in Tampa, Herman A. Edwards refers to his mail route in the Old Southeast as his home.

"I just sleep in Tampa," said Herman, 54, while making his rounds one recent afternoon. "This is where I live, right on the ground."

These days, Herman's ground is shifting. Along with nearly 300,000 other mail carriers across the nation, Herman's route is being restructured to save money. In a neighborhood where shuttered homes do not go unnoticed and crime patterns are closely watched, the news that Herman might be gone spread swiftly.

In their online discussion group, Old Southeast residents railed against the possibility of Herman's removal. Someone noted that he is a fellow Steelers fan, another that their mail more than once got lost on his day off. One writer suggested starting a collection for their departing mailman. David Shafer, a neighborhood association board member, called for a Save Our Mailman campaign.

"Our neighborhood is a little different than many in these days of rapidly shifting jobs and loyalties in that we really look out for each other," Shafer wrote to the postal service. "Herman is considered a very important part of the Old Southeast because he knows us and looks out for us. He has built up many positive relationships because we know he cares. This is, of course, a rare attitude. Please do not take Herman away from us."

Their letters and phone calls poured into the Midtown post office, but little could be done.

It turns out, Herman isn't going so far after all. Beginning Saturday, his route will shed several streets while gaining nearly twice as many in surrounding neighborhoods to the south and west. What streets he may lose — Bay Street SE, Beach Street SE, and 18th Avenue S are likely — will be picked up by a mail carrier on an adjacent route.

Postal officials say the changes are brought about by dwindling first class mail, including fewer mailings of glossy catalogues and credit card offers, and increasing use of the Internet for bill paying and commerce. First class mail volume has not been this low since 1964. This year, there are expected to be 30 billion fewer pieces of first class mail than in 2006, said Gary Sawtelle, a spokesman for the postal service. The rising cost of fuel is another factor.

The changes come with the blessing of the National Association of Letter Carriers. Through retirements, reassignments and closed vacancies, the postal service will slash 24 of its 480 letter carrier positions in Pinellas county without costing anyone their job, said Joe Henschen, executive vice president of the west coast Florida branch of the union.

Even Herman agrees that the changes wrought by this economy are inevitable. "I call this collateral damage," he said. "Changes have to be made."

Luckily, Herman is used to change. Some on his route know that he's an Air Force veteran who was stationed for years in Anchorage, Alaska. "When you been in about 50 to 60 below zero, it can't get hot enough," he joked recently.

Herman will miss his old streets, where the dogs don't bark as loudly anymore and he knows to peek in on home-bound elderly residents.

"It was very rewarding for me to know that they cared that much," Herman said of the campaign to keep him. "I think the things I'll miss the most is the kids I saw seven years ago. Now, they're about my height."

This week, along with the mail delivery, there will be good-byes.

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

Beloved letter carrier's mail route changes, despite effort in Old Southeast 07/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 4:32pm]
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