After nearly two weeks of suspended service, the United States Postal Service in Wales reopened Wednesday.
Mail service was suspended earlier this month when postmaster Dan Richards was called away on emergency medical leave to Anchorage. Without a trained replacement for Richards, the post office in Wales — which has a population of less than 200 — was forced to close.
Michele Ongtowasruk is an administrator at the high school in Wales. She said the halt in service came as a surprise to residents — many of whom were anticipating the delivery of Permanent Fund Dividend checks.
“There was just people standing outside of the post waiting for the mail to be sorted at the post office,” said Ontowasruk.
Temporary relief arrived when Nome’s postmaster, Sherrie Madden, flew into Wales to distribute backlogged mail last week.
According to Ongtowasruk, Madden arrived on an evening flight — opening the post office at 4 o’clock and working after-hours until she had sorted and delivered the outstanding paper mail. Residents had to wait an additional business day to collect packages.
Dawn Peppinger is the marketing manager for the United States Post Office in Anchorage. She said in situations where there is no immediate replacement within a community, postal workers from around Alaska must step in on a volunteer basis.
“We don’t have a staff of postmasters doing nothing, waiting for the call,” said Peppinger. “What we end up having to do is look for someone who’s willing to leave their home, their family, for an unknown amount of time to fly into an area to run that post office.”
As tough a sell as that may sound, Peppinger said USPS has been lucky so far — postal workers from larger communities are usually willing to provide help. But the preference is always to have local community members trained as replacements, she said.
As for mail service in Wales, Richards returned as postmaster Wednesday. While this still doesn’t solve the underlying staff shortage problem, Peppinger said she hopes community members will be inspired to apply for vacant positions with the U.S. postal service.
Interested parties can fill out an application online at usps.com or call (907) 564-2828.