Delivering kindness

A longtime Linden Hills mail carrier is retiring, but she won’t be forgotten

Pauline Pepper with Cali, one of the dogs on the Linden Hills mail route she has walked for 37 years. Submitted photo

As the clock wound down on Linden Hills mail carrier Pauline Pepper’s 37-year career, she spent one of her final days off working on a job application.

Pepper hoped to snag a summer job as an usher at Target Field, where she could work outdoors and be around people, just like her mail route. It would give her something to look forward to, she said, and help her transition out of a job she loved.

“These people out here, they’re my family. I call them my Linden Hills family,” Pepper said.

The feeling is mutual. While the polar vortex had shut down much of the state — including U.S. Postal Service deliveries — a group of Linden Hills neighbors were busy planning a Feb. 2 retirement party for Pepper.

“She’s very dedicated, as well as being this great, friendly person who is interested in people’s lives,” said Dana Schroeder, who has lived on Pepper’s route since she and her husband moved their family to Minneapolis from Elbow Lake in the 1980s.

Pepper often went beyond the call of duty, paying postage due on Schroeder’s forwarded mail, showing up at the annual children’s art fair organized by Schroeder’s York Avenue neighbors and loaning a mailbag and hat to her son Carl the year he dressed as a mail carrier for Halloween. When Schroeder’s older daughter, Erin, played park league baseball, Pepper would occasionally be in the stands.

Schroeder repaid the kindness, throwing Pepper a baby shower when she was pregnant with her first child and offering support in the hectic days after her second child arrived. She brought Pepper meals when she was stuck at home recovering from an injury.

“We just became very good friends,” Schroeder said.

And theirs wasn’t the only relationship Pepper tended to as she swiftly completed her appointed rounds. She’s been to graduation parties and funerals. A proud new father let Pepper hold his four-day-old baby as mom slept in another room. She can hardly walk around Lake Harriet without someone shouting, “Pauline!”

Pepper said she’d often stop to eat lunch with a woman on her route who, late in life, had trouble seeing because of macular degeneration. Pepper would help her organize and pay her bills.

One day, after the woman died, there was a big hole where her house used to be. There’s a much bigger home there, now.

“I can’t tell you how much of that I’ve seen in 37 years,” Pepper said.

The job has changed quite a bit in that time. Pepper’s branch is often short-staffed these days, and it’s not unusual for carriers to take extra routes or get called in on their off days, working 55–60 hours some weeks.

Days run longer. Pepper was still out delivering packages at 7 p.m. one day shortly before Christmas. It was dark and freezing cold, she said, and as she approached a house on her route she found a little boy waiting for her, cradling a big cup of cocoa in his outstretched hands.

“That was the best hot chocolate I ever had in my life,” she said.

It’s not just the people on her route who Pepper will miss. Pet owners tell Pepper their cats and dogs react to her like no one else.

She said she’ll especially miss a gangly shepherd mix, “all legs” and up to her chest in height.

“We go nose to nose. He never barks and never licks. We just go nose to nose and breath the air,” Pepper said. “We’ve grown old together.”

Pepper, who turns 62 in February, lives in Lynnhurst. In the goodbye note she recently delivered to the 300-plus households on her route, Pepper said she looked forward to seeing familiar faces around the lakes and in the neighborhood.

Thirty-seven years as a mail carrier is remarkable but not record-setting. Of the roughly 2,900 city carriers working in the Postal Service’s Northland and Hawkeye districts in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, there are 419 with 30-plus years of service, said USPS spokesperson Kristy Anderson. The average is 15 years, and one carrier has been working for 46 years.

The Edina Branch, where Pepper is based, is home to a number of long-tenured mail carriers, said Antonio Maldonado, a supervisor. Pepper is one of several with 30 years of service, and others have been delivering mail for 15 or 20 years.

But Maldonado said it isn’t just years of service that set Pepper apart.

“She really takes to heart what she does,” he said. “She’s one of the top carriers with us. Outstanding customer service.”

Maldonado said he’ll often tease Pepper when she leaves on vacation because he knows she’ll come back a day or two early, on her own time, just to see how things are going on her route.

“She cannot help it,” he said.