GROTON -- Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night ever kept Tony Marhefka from completing her duties but now, after 27 years working for the United States Post Office, the beloved West Groton postmaster has decided to call it quits as modern technology takes its toll on the venerable organization.
"We had a busy post office in West Groton, at least until the economy dropped," said Marhefka, who plans to retire as of July 31. "Add to that email and all that electronic stuff and volume was already on the decrease. Everyone's on a computer these days and many do their mailing from the computer."
With its services becoming increasingly anachronistic and or simply duplicated by competitors, the ailing U.S. Postal Service has been in trouble for many years forcing it to return to Congress more and more frequently for permission to increase its postage rates, even selling "forever stamps" that capitalize on the unreliability of its own rates!
Add to that the fact that management did little over the years to negotiate with its postal union until finally finding itself in the same position as many towns and cities: with payroll and retirement costs that far exceed revenues.
Caught between increasing resistance to higher postage rates and its contractual responsibilities with employees, the post office is being forced to reduce spending instead resulting in nationwide cutbacks effecting all of its 13,000 offices, among them, that of West Groton.
That's where Marhefka appeared on the scene 20 years ago. By that time, the West Groton Post Office had received its own zip code of 01472 and had gone without a postmaster for nine years.
"That was Teddy Swieca," said Marhefka. "He served for 26 years before retiring. He wasn't replaced until I came in. But I'll be the last postmaster for this office."
Marhefka reports that beside herself, the West Groton Post Office employed only two other people. Although not yet fully determined, if the planned cutbacks are implemented, the branch will only be open four hours a day.
"The cutback didn't come as a surprise to me," admitted Marhefka. "Even though I thought I was doing well on my revenue so I didn't think my office would be affected. I guess it wasn't enough. We weren't losing any money for the post office anyway. I was never in the red, always in the black."
Although small, the West Groton Post Office covered all the usual services of its full sized counterparts including post office boxes that were the norm for everyone before the advent of the automobile and home delivery if requested.
But for many residents, going down to the post office in person to pick up their mail was a cherished ritual and not one to be missed even for the ease of home delivery.
"West Groton was fine with its own post office," said Marhefka, a resident of Clinton. "If you ask the people who live here about it, they'll tell you to leave them alone. It's a total community place with residents who liked to gather in our lobby and 'trash talk' as they call it. Politics, gossip, etc. It was a socially happening place where people could find out everything that was going on in town."
For herself however, Marhefka decided that with the cutback in hours, it was time to call it a day rather than continue.
"I lost my job as postmaster here," explained Marhefka. "With only four hours available at a time, I opted for early retirement. I needed to take care of my mother anyway. She's 83 and alone at the house all day. I can't leave her alone anymore."
But Marhefka's leavetaking will not come without a price.
"What I'll miss most about the job is the people," confessed Marhefka. "This whole community has been wonderful and its people the best in the world. I saw them live their lives and watched the little kids grow up and go off to college. I was surely blessed by God to meet and know all of them."
And the U.S. Postal Service itself? Will it long survive following the cutbacks? In an age of high speed internet, has it outlived its usefulness?
"I don't know about that," concluded Marhefka. "I still use it all the time!"