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Retiring postal worker leaves smiles in his wake


Steve Sanks stamps final letter after 20 years in Wilsonville

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Post Office employee Steve Sanks has been a fixture behind the counter of the Wilsonville facility since it opened in 1994. He retires March 31, and there are a lot of people who are going to miss his presence. The post office has long been a hub of community activity in towns across America.

Even today, in an age of bar codes, automation and computer-scanned packages, the men and women of the post office continue to provide a connection to a service that still sends many of our bills, letters and gifts to locations all over the world.

This is why the upcoming departure of longtime U.S. Postal Service worker Steve Sanks is set to hit the Wilsonville Post Office particularly hard.

All you have to do is watch Sanks in action.

“Hi, Vicki," Sanks said cheerfully, waving the first woman in his line forward to the counter. She did so, plunking down her packages in front of him.

A second man in a ball cap carrying a single large package noticed that Sanks was being photographed.

“Go ahead and shoot,” the man said, adding that he comes to the post office on a near daily basis. “He’s retiring. He deserves it.”

As the man explained his role in a family business, a third woman leaned out from behind the line and said "Hello" to Sanks.

“The biggest thing I’m going to miss are the people who have been coming in here for 20 years,” Sanks said later in the building’s distribution room.

He’s one of just a few Wilsonville postal employees left from the building’s 1994 opening. And now he’s retiring in exactly the manner he had planned out the whole time. March 31 will be his last day on the job. Yet, the memories keep coming back to make the process that much more poignant as that day approaches.

“There are some people with businesses who have come in here the whole time,” Sanks said. “And the folks in Charbonneau are great. It’s more like having friends than customers, and it’s genuine.”

Deborah Coleman would agree. Coleman works for the city of Wilsonville and has been delivering mail from city hall to the post office on a regular basis for seven years now. She said Sanks is a big reason why those daily runs became one of the most enjoyable parts of her day.

“It's not the same when he's not there,” Coleman said. “The post office is not going to be the same. We're going to have some adjusting to do.”

Coleman’s co-worker Cricket Taylor has worked for the city even longer. She also is familiar with Sanks and his reputation for good cheer.

“He's pretty impressive," Taylor said. "He seems to remember everyone's name. He's always like, 'Hi, Cricket. What's up?'"

Sanks grew up in Iowa, where laid back is a way of life.

He served two years in the military before landing a great job in Oregon as a consultant with an energy firm advising people on energy efficiency. But he wanted something more routine, something more stable and seemingly long term.

So he responded to a 1985 notice he saw advertising a U.S. Postal Service exam at the Lloyd Center in Portland. There, among hundreds of other would-be mail carriers, sorters and postmasters, he scored high enough to merit a call back — no sure thing given the number of people involved.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Post Office employee Steve Sanks stamps a package. He has been a fixture behind the counter since the Wilsonville facility opened in 1994. He retires March 31.The only thing was, it took three years for that call to happen.

“I had a very good job as an energy consultant,” Sanks said. “I would travel around, and it was a good job. But I saw an ad for a postal job in the paper and I was looking more for longevity. I was amazed at how hard it was.”

The test seeks out individuals with strong memory and math skills, which happened to match Sanks’ strengths. He was hired in November 1988 and assigned to the Tualatin Post Office. In 1990 he transferred to Canby, where he worked until the new Wilsonville post office opened in 1994. It replaced an old facility that stood where the Sonic hamburger restaurant now is located.

“The old one was small,” he said. “Very small. It was so small, that where the liquor store is now we had a detached unit there, and we’d sort the mail in one spot and take it to the second.”

Not long after the August 1994 opening of the Wilsonville building, Sanks knew he was in the right spot.

“I wasn’t here very long and I had decided I was going to finish my career here,” he said.

The biggest changes over the years have been technological. Automation has replaced many jobs once done by fellow employees, leaving longtime postal workers like Sanks and fellow Wilsonville staffer Ellen Makapagal feeling like survivors.

“Automation has replaced so much that we used to do manually back in the day,” Makapagal said. “Even the window clerks are being replaced by machines in the lobbies.”

Whereas in 1994 all parcels were sorted by hand before being sent out on trucks, machines now do the same task more quickly and efficiently.

“There was a lot more, I like the word, there was a lot more 'camaraderie' back in the day,” Makapagal said. “It was more us working side by side, and now it’s mostly at the window where you interact with people.”

Which is exactly where Sanks is at his best.

“There was one time, and I’ve always referred to this story,” he said. “There was a line of people and there was a little lady I was helping. She needed help, and the next gentleman in line was talking and he said, ‘That guy treats that lady like she’s the only one in line.’ And I’ve always thought that was one of the best compliments I’ve received. I’ve always tried to make people feel better when they leave than when they got here.”

In his retirement, Sanks plans to travel with his wife, Jaci, who currently is the postmaster of the Molalla Post Office. But that will have to wait another 18 months until she also retires. Until then, though, he probably will work on his 1967 GTO hot rod.

And, Coleman noted, Sanks will finally be able to work on his salmon fishing skills.

"He's waiting on that fish," she said with a laugh. "And he's growing a beard until he catches the fish. Now that he's retiring he'll finally be able to."

By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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