Friends help post office celebrate its new home

April 11, 1993|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Gray skies and constant drizzle couldn't dampen the festive atmosphere at Benson's new gathering place, where loitering is encouraged and good conversation is the rule.

Yes, it's the new post office, relocated from its former home about 100 yards away. But in Benson, it's much more than merely a place to pick up the mail or buy stamps.

"Officially, this building is a post office but to most of our customers, it's a meeting place," Ruth Biedermann, postmaster for the past 10 years, said at the new office's open house, which drew 200 people.

"It's kind of like a throwback to the 1800s when the mail was handled from the postmaster's home at the intersection of Harford and Connolly roads. As a matter of fact, we should hang a sign above the entrance stating that we encourage loitering."

No one delivers mail from the Benson post office -- its 130 box-holders and general delivery customers must come to the office.

"No one complains about having to come in for their mail," Mrs. Biedermann said. "For most, it provides an opportunity to find out what's happening in the community. We have a great many elderly customers, most of whom have lived in this area all of their lives."

Two of those customers, 82-year-old Oscar Kienzler and his wife, Lottie, showed up early. Mr. Kienzler knows his stamps. He's been collecting them for 76 years.

Virginia Sauers, clerk at the Benson post office for 20 years and a community native, likes the small-town atmosphere and knows just about everybody who comes in.

"They really look upon us as family. We know as much about them as they do about us."

The new post office, a former three-bedroom home on Connolly Road, replaces the old blue-and-white trailer that had housed the office since 1974.

Two huge pine trees grace the entrance, and an expanse of freshly seeded grass stretches nearly 100 feet out front.

"Our customers really like this building and, as for Virginia and myself, I can only say it is a pleasure working in a place that has running water," said Mrs. Biedermann, contrasting the renovated office with its predecessor.

Mrs. Biedermann said the office does about $250,000 a year in business, much of it from stamp collectors.

"We get at least one call a day from people asking if we have a certain stamp in stock," she said. "Recently a woman from Philadelphia called seeking wildflower stamps to use to mail out her daughter's wedding invitations. We not only had what she wanted but also the quantity."

The post office has always played a big role in Benson, named after its first postmaster, Charles Benson. Although no official boundaries exist, residents consider Benson the triangle formed Routes 1, 147 and 152.

Over the years, the location of the post office moved with the appointment of each new postmaster. Mrs. Biedermann is the 14th postmaster in the 110-year history of the Benson office.

Yesterday, a fully decorated Easter egg tree adorned one corner of the lobby of the newest one, and a full jelly bean basket sat on the service counter. Customers, family and friends nibbled as they sifted through memorabilia on a table.

In the large mail-sorting area at the rear of the building sat two tables, one piled high with tiny sandwiches, vegetables and dip, the other holding a huge bowl of punch.

Out on the back porch, Gus Biedermann, the postmaster's husband, cooked hot dogs on a grill.

"I guarantee you won't find too many post offices around the country any friendlier than this one," he said.

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