Craig Spilde
Craig Spilde
When Craig Spilde took a work-study job at the Decorah post office in 1972, little did the Luther College freshman know it would turn into a career which would span almost four decades.

As the Decorah native plans to retire, he took the time to reflect on his 37-year career as postmaster.

"I never expected I'd be here this long," said Spilde, a 1972 Decorah High School graduate and 1976 Luther alum.

Spilde, who met and married fellow Luther student Jeanette (Nelson) while still in college, worked as a clerk until 1985, when he became a supervisor at the office. Then in 1988, he was hired as the postmaster in Waukon, returning to Decorah in 1994 to assume the duties of officer in charge.

In 1995, he was promoted to postmaster, a position he has held ever since.

Big changes

Spilde said, over time, he has witnessed numerous changes in his field.

"The biggest difference is how we work the mail. Everything was manual when I started. Now almost everything is done via machines," he said.

Another big shift was the loss of government support for the postal service in general.

"When I started, stamps were only 8 or 10 cents, but at the time, we were subsidized by federal tax dollars. Now postage is 44 cents, but 100 percent of our revenue comes from postage," he said.

Another evolution Spilde has witnessed has been more rural deliveries.

"We used to have five city routes and six rural routes. Now we have only four city and nine rural routes. All our growth has gone into the rural delivery method," he said.

In addition, Spilde said there were a few years when competing package delivery companies took their toll on postal service revenue.

"That was before we were able to provide mail tracking. Now that we do, surprisingly a lot of it is coming back as we expand the number of products that offer it," he said.

High volume

Spilde said in visiting with the public, he has learned people often don't realize the tremendous volume of mail that flows through the tremendous volume a post office the size of Decorah's.

"We're a consolidation center, so all the 521 mail (zip codes which begin with 521) comes through here," said Spilde.

"People aren't aware we run close to 24-hours a day," said Spilde, adding the Decorah post employs 41 employees, who work hours ranging from 1 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Neither rain nor snow

And even though Spilde touts his staff as a "great group of people," he said there have been a handful of times during his tenure when even good help couldn't get the mail delivered.

"I can only remember twice when we had nothing to deliver because the mail didn't get in, and less than a dozen times in 37 years where we had to limit our delivery due to weather," he said.

Making it fun

Spilde said in addition to his wonderful staff, one of the things that has kept his job interesting over time has been the plethora of inquiries his office has to deal with.

"I've had questions where they call and ask what the longitude and latitude of Decorah is. One lady called with questions about her bank deposit. Others will call and simply ask if their letter came in," he said.

In addition, Spilde said he and his colleagues are always ecstatic when he is able to help a hard-to-deliver letter reach its destination.

"I remember when I was working in Waukon and a letter came in with no address. The name was one we didn't recognize, and it was just addressed to Waukon, Iowa," said Spilde.

Spilde and his staff discussed the nebulous note, and one carrier remembered a woman in the area whose maiden name matched the name on the envelope.

"Turns out it was her. She had an aunt with Alzheimer's, who couldn't remember her married name, and used her maiden name from 50 years ago," he said.

"One of the things that makes our day is when we can make your day."

A good career

As Spilde readies to leave his post Jan. 1, he said he realizes how fortunate he has been through the years.

"This has been a great community to work in. It's always special when you can have your career in your hometown. This was a great place to raise kids," he said.

What's next?

Spilde said following his retirement, he hopes to spend more time traveling and visiting his two grown daughters and exploring some volunteer opportunities.

"There are things I will miss - the people especially. It's been a good career," he concluded.