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Dale Hallebach walked into the Meeker Post Office on Jan. 2 for the last time.
At least the last time as postmaster.
“It’s weird,” he said Tuesday. “You can’t imagine.”
After 40 years with the U.S. Postal Service, Hallebach didn’t quite know how to react to his last day on the job.
“I’m on the verge of crying and elation,” Hallebach said. “It’s been a long haul. The postal service has been my life. I’ve really cared about this company.”
Hallebach started with the postal service when he was barely old enough to drive; he was 16.
“I didn’t even know how to swear when I started at the post office,” said Hallebach, who grew up in a Chicago suburb. “I came from a big office, about 150 employees.”
Growing up, Hallebach had another distinction.
“I was the youngest Eagle Scout in the Chicago district that year,” he said. “I earned 27 merit badges in two and half years.”
Back then, the postal service was known as the U.S. Post Office.
“In 1972, things changed, we became the postal service,” Hallebach said. “No tax dollars went to running the post office. We became self-sufficient.”
Hallebach has been working for the post office, or the postal service, since he was a teenager. During that time, spanning four decades, he’s been a model of consistency.
“I haven’t missed a day of work in 29 years,” he said.
Now, he will have a lot more time on his hands.
“I’m going to lay low for about three months. Then I plan to further my photography business and continue with my teaching (photography),” said Hallebach, whose other hobby includes playing the drums in a local band.
But after 40 years of working at a job, life will be different. Asked what he will miss the most, Hallebach said, the people.
“A manager is nothing without his employees,” he said, adding, “We’ve had contract carriers who go above and beyond.”
He also credited his wife, Trish.
“Any successful man has a great woman behind him,” Hallebach said. “She has always been very supportive.”
At a small-town post office, the postmaster isn’t some big-shot administrator who sits behind a desk all day. He does a variety of hands-on tasks. Hallebach was often seen working behind the counter, waiting on customers. He will miss that interaction with people.
“That’s what I will miss the most,” he said. “The patrons in Meeker are the most fun, the most patient any postmaster could wish for. Whether complaints or compliments, they’ve been very supportive. What makes a town is people, and Meeker has great people.”
The feeling is mutual.
As the longest-serving postmaster in the history of the Meeker Post Office, which opened in 1871, Hallebach got to know his customers, and vice versa.
“I’ve had people say I will be missed,” Hallebach said. “I’ve had people cry in line. I’ve had people ask if I will change my mind.”
At a farewell dinner last Friday night at a local restaurant, post office employees sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” when Hallebach and his wife walked in.
Post office employee Barbara Persinger, who worked with Hallebach for 12 years, said Monday it will be different without him around.
“He will be sorely missed,” Persinger said. ‘It seems empty around here. We just loved working together.”
It used to be, Hallebach knew all of his customers who came into the post office. That’s changed in recent years.
“When we had the influx of people (for work in the oil and gas fields), it was hard to know everybody,” Hallebach said.
As the town grew, so the did the volume of mail going through the post office.
“When I started, we had about 1,250 parcels a day,” Hallebach said. “Now we have about 2,500 to 3,000 deliveries.”
Hallebach recently delivered last-minute gift packages on Christmas Day, a tradition he started 18 years ago.
“I always do it on Christmas Day,” Hallebach said. “It takes about two and a half hours. I average about 40 to 50 parcels. I always feel good after I do it. I feel like I did something good. It’s my favorite part of Christmas.”
With Hallebach’s retirement, Matt Reynolds of Montrose will assume the postmaster’s duties temporarily.
“We’re going to have a temp here for about three to six months, maybe longer, and then they’ll do interviews,” said Hallebach, adding. “We have two new clerks who are working out well. I’m glad I’m leaving the office in good hands.”
After stints with the post offices in Durango (1980) and Mancos (1986), Hallebach came to Meeker as postmaster in 1987, and he stayed.
“I spent 21 years and four months with the Meeker Post Office,” Hallebach said.
And even though he will no longer be the postmaster, Meeker will continue to be home.
“I’ve been very blessed to be the postmaster here,” Hallebach said. “I’m not leaving. I’m just saying goodbye.”