‘Postage paid’: Wheaton neighborhood honors letter carrier retiring after four decades

At age 20, Larry Emma was working his first job for John Deere and planning on a career in mechanics, when one of his parents’ friends said the post office was hiring.

“They even put my name in for me. I didn’t even go in and do it. A year-and-a-half later, they called me,” he said.

For the next 41½ years, Emma, a Wheaton native, delivered mail to friends and neighbors -- many of whom became like family, if the crowd who showed up for his retirement celebration Saturday afternoon is any indication.

About 100 neighbors in the Danada West subdivision joined Emma and his family for a noontime street corner gathering during the last day on his mail route, sharing hugs and memories with their much-loved letter carrier. He’s been doing curbside deliveries there from a mail truck for about 15 years, following walking routes in the first part of his career.

“When I came out here this morning and started delivering my route and saw a balloon on every single box, I knew I was in for something. It’s fantastic. I really appreciate everything everybody did,” said Emma, who grew emotional from the tributes. “I’m just doing my job.”

The celebration stemmed from a recent conversation between neighbor Kathryn Medanic and Emma, who said that after years of contemplation, he finally planned to retire. Medanic took to a neighborhood Facebook group and email distribution list, helping organize 125 houses in the neighborhood to fly balloons from their mailboxes, and compiling a scrapbook of stories and memories to give to Emma.

Many of the neighbors came to say goodbye to Emma on the front lawn of fellow event organizer Becca Hary. Emma’s family members showed up in T-shirts with a 1980 stamp on one side and the description: “Postage Due.” On the back was a 2021 “Forever” stamp and the phrase “Postage Paid.”

“I ended up being a mailman for 41½ years and never even thought of that as an occupation initially,” Emma said. “It’s always been a good job.”