Area post office closings possible

7/28/2011

By JEROME P. CURRY

By JEROME P. CURRY

jcurry@gctelegram.com

Five southwest Kansas post offices are facing the possibility of being shut down.

The post offices in Coolidge, Kendall, Ensign, Marienthal and Richfield are on the list of 3,700 rural post offices across the nation the U.S. Postal Service will study in a closing review.

"In the past five years, mail volume has declined 20 percent due to the poor economy and electronic diversion (email and online bill paying)," said Denver-based Brian Sperry, the regional spokesman for the postal service. "The postal service lost $8.5 billion and projects to lose more than 8 billion this year."

All of the southwest Kansas post offices scheduled for the study have populations of only a few hundred at the most. All serve farm and ranch areas. At least two are unincorporated. The current postmasters could not be reached for comment or declined interviews, referring all inquiries to Sperry in Denver. The postmasters first learned their installations were on the review list on Monday afternoon, before the information was released nationally on Tuesday.

The Wichita County Director of Economic Development could comment and did. Marienthal, one of those on the USPS review agenda, is in Wichita County.

"The loss of a post office in a rural community such as Marienthal can certainly have widespread impact on residents and businesses that rely on it," said Simone Cahoj, director of economic development in Wichita County. "The threat of losing the Marienthal Post Office should be a call to support our rural post offices and businesses lest we lose them."

Cahoj's offices are in Leoti, the county seat.

Here is a closer look at the communities that could be affected by the review order:

* Marienthal: It is an unincorporated community in Wichita County with a population of about 100. The post office was established March 18, 1902. The town was founded in 1892 by a group of immigrant Germans from Russia. They named it after their previous hometown of Marienthal, Russia. Marienthal is the home of St. Mary Roman Catholic church, a post office, an organic flour mill, a bar called The Bluebird and a grain elevator.

* Coolidge: Located in Hamilton County 14 miles west of Syracuse, its population was 86 in the 2000 census. It was named for Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, a president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

According to a county history, "The Santa Fe Railroad used Coolidge as a base of operations, which created the need for stores, saloons, stables, and other services. Coolidge was also a division point of the railroad where they would change crew, load up with coal, water, grease, and repair. ... The town's peak years were 1885-1887. The town was platted in 1886, making it the first organized city in Hamilton County. In the late 1880s, Coolidge enjoyed a huge cattle trade and had a floating population of 800 to 1,000. The division point was moved from Coolidge to La Junta, Colo., in 1890 and the population began to decline steadily."

* Kendall: Like Coolidge, the town is in Hamilton County, where the county seat is Syracuse. Kendall is unincorporated and reportedly has a population of less than 100. A county history says, "Kendall was platted in February 1885, and by May, 200 houses had been built. The town was originally called Aubry, but was changed to Kendall, after the Kendall brothers who were popular merchants in the area. Kendall was named temporary county seat in 1886, but the seat was moved to Syracuse by a Kansas Supreme Court decision in July 1888."

* Ensign: Located in Gray County, its population was 203 at the 2000 census and currently is 187, reported Gray County Clerk Bonnie Swartz. The mayor is Josh Watson, who was reported to work in Dodge City. He could not be reached for comment on the postal service review decision. Swartz said there is a grain elevator in Ensign, plus dry and liquid fertilizer loading points. The Ensign post office, the county clerk reported, had been closed at least once before because it lost its postmaster and reopened when a new postmaster was employed about four years ago.

* Richfield: The population of this town in Morton County was 48 at the 2000 census. It was the county seat of Morton county in 1912. Elkhart is the current county seat. Richfield was built near the north fork of the Cimarron river, about 50 miles south of Syracuse, the nearest shipping point. There were stores, a weekly newspaper (the Monitor), and a bank, established in 1911, the first in the county. Richfield was established in 1885, and a two years later its population was reported to be 600. The population had begun to decrease before 1890, there being but 164 people in the town at that time. In 1900, the population was 61.

Sperry, speaking for the post office, emphasized that a decision had not been made to close the post offices in southwest Kansas or elsewhere.

"The postal service will conduct studies for possible discontinuance," he said in a telephone interview. "We'll be gathering information so we can make a decision. There isn't a timeline on that."

Eventually, he said, input would be sought from the communities affected, including a town meeting with postal patrons.

"A letter will go out to them," Sperry said. "It will also contain a questionnaire for people to return so that everyone can comment even if they cannot come to the meetings when they are scheduled."

The post offices selected for review, he said, were based on the traffic at the post office. All, he said, have work loads of less than two hours a day.

Even if the decision is made to close a post office, he said, service would continue through a rural carrier, service that would include stamps, mailing and delivery.

"Their city and zip code will continue," Sperry said.

In addition, a concept called the Village Post Office would be provided, he said, in individual villages where the postal service would contract in the community with an individual or other entity to provide postal service.

"No decision to close has been made on any office in Kansas, or elsewhere," he said.

He promised the postal service would assist any workers who might lose their jobs because of a closure. In each case, only one full time worker, is involved.

Other rural post offices in the region have closed in recent years.

The office at Kalvesta in Finney County shut down in January of 2007 after the postmaster, Darlene Dugger, retired. She worked 16 years at the Kalvesta office, the last 13 as postmaster.

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