'Purple lady' delivers mail with personal touch NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE

October 02, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

She's the purple lady.

Loaded with lollipops, dog biscuits and the mail, Jan Arnold sets out each day from the Savage Post Office in her purple jeep.

Wearing purple and driving purple, Mrs. Arnold, affectionately known around town as the purple lady, has delivered the mail in Savage, for 17 years.

But it's more than her purple mail truck that has made her a cherished local celebrity.

It's the personal touch Mrs. Arnold brings to her work. She knows almost every customer on her route by name, carries treats for kids and the mail carrier's worst enemy, and pays the postage due on mail for her customers to save them a trip to the post office.

"When it comes to delivering the mail she really cares about her people," said Savage postmaster, John H. S. Hyater.

It's mail service with more than a smile, but to Mrs. Arnold, her customers are worth the extra effort.

"Most of the people are very, very nice," said Mrs. Arnold, 56. "I like welcoming them to Savage and trying to deliver their mail as best I can."

From all indications, Mrs. Arnold has an entire town of satisfied customers. Even people on her route who have moved away tell her how much they miss the personalized service.

Former customer Marian Vessels, who uses a wheelchair, said that the Savage post office wasn't wheelchair accessible when she lived there eight years ago.

Mrs. Arnold made sure that Mrs. Vessels, who lives in Ellicott City now, got her packages left for pick-up at the post office and kept her supplied with stamps.

"She was always so thoughtful and very considerate about my special needs and not being able to use the post office," Mrs. Vessels said.

"She does more than her job," said county councilwoman and former Savage resident Shane Pendergrass. "She sort of takes care of people." Mrs. Pendergrass, who lives in Columbia, speaks from experience.

"If it hadn't been for Jan Arnold we would have lost our house," the councilwoman said.

By way of explanation, the Pendergrass family was living in England from 1981 to 1984 and renting their home in Savage.

And they assumed that the post office would forward their mail, including the property tax bills, during their three-year stay.

But mail was only forwarded for the first year. One day, much to their surprise, they received the final notice that their house in Savage was being put up for auction for non-payment of taxes.

"Jan looked at the envelope and thought it looked important," Mrs. Pendergrass said, explaining how Mrs. Arnold intercepted the notice. "She put her own stamp on it, addressed it and sent it to us," Mrs. Pendergrass said.

"I just love her," said customer Gerry Watts, 69. "She really goes all out and is always doing me favors."

If Mrs. Watts needs cash and can't get out to cash a check, she'll leave a note for her mail lady: "Jan, I need $150."

Mrs. Arnold will either give her customer $150 of her own money and get a check from Mrs. Watts, or take a check to the bank for her.

"There's not too many people like that," Mrs. Watts said. "I don't even hold it against her that she loves purple, because I do too," she added.

"It's the only color I buy," said Mrs. Arnold, who's been wearing purple, from her glasses to her shoes, for 20 years. "It makes it very easy to shop; it all matches up someday."

She's received countless purple gifts from customers: baskets, candles, pens, ashtrays, soap, a pillow embroidered with "Ye Olde Maillady."

"If it's purple, I've gotten it," said Mrs. Arnold.

She said she even received a purple toilet seat one Christmas.

The task of delivering Savage's mail has grown substantially since Mrs. Arnold started working for the post office as a substitute mail carrier in 1975.

"Used to be I was done before noon," she said. "It's grown to the point now where it's an all-day job."

Arriving at the post office at 7 a.m. to sort the mail, Mrs. Arnold sets out on her route at about noon and finishes up her 822 deliveries between 3 and 5 p.m.

In a couple of weeks, a second carrier will take on half of Mrs. Arnold's route because it's become too big for one person, she said.

Mrs. Arnold says she loves her job because of the people she's met.

She even worries that some of her customers don't get enough mail.

"You feel like writing them letters sometimes," she said.

Savage residents can count on seeing the purple mail truck rolling through their streets for at least a few more years until Mrs. Arnold has 20 years of government service.

"People stop me and think it's so neat," Mrs. Arnold said of her jeep. "When I'm driving down the street I see people just burst into smile."

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