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Special delivery retirement for Gurnee postal worker

Window clerk Alyce Coleman 69 Gurnee waits customer VanessAnzelmo Grayslake Gurnee Post Office. Coleman is retiring after 40 years as

Window clerk Alyce Coleman, 69, of Gurnee waits on customer Vanessa Anzelmo of Grayslake at the Gurnee Post Office. Coleman is retiring after 40 years as a postal employee. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Longtime Gurnee postal worker Alyce Coleman will be feted during a ceremony at 9 a.m. Friday athe Gurne e Post Office, 1 N. O’Plaine Road, at the corner of Washington Street. Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik will help pay tribute.

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Updated: April 2, 2013 2:06AM

GURNEE — With the U.S. Postal Service a predicted few weeks from financial ruin, Alyce Coleman might be congratulated for getting out in the nick of time.

But the longtime window clerk at the Gurnee Post Office, who retired Thursday after 40 years of service, does not care to discuss the precarious future of mail delivery. She simply can’t imagine that the post in her town, in her country, could cease to exist. The Postal Service has been good to her, and she has been good to it.

“It’s given me a home,” Coleman, 69, said. “I put my son through college. I’ll have a secure retirement.”

In return, Coleman has brightened the day for thousands of postal customers who have enjoyed her cheerful, chatty, helpful disposition.

“She’s always been one of the nicest people to deal with,” said customer Gary Ritzert of Gurnee. “In business, a friendly face sets the pace.”

On her last day of work, Coleman stood in her usual spot behind the counter at the office at 1 N. O’Plaine Road, a sign taped in front of her proclaiming her retirement.

“You’ve been around awhile!” exclaimed a customer who purchased three books of stamps.

“Yeah,” Coleman chuckled. “I’ve been around.”

When she started as a clerk/carrier at the Waukegan Post Office in 1972, she earned $4.42 an hour. Stamps were eight cents. Mail arrived in big bags and Coleman had to “bed-load” trucks. Today’s mail, much of it pre-sorted, comes in bins that are pulled off rolling metal carriers.

Coleman also worked in Mundelein and when she started in Gurnee, the post office was a tiny building on Old Grand Avenue that serviced four village routes and one rural route. Today, the village includes 17 city routes and 16 rural routes.

Coleman’s coworkers will say “Bon Voyage” at a private brunch on Sunday. Her post office will hold a brief public farewell at 9 a.m. today, Friday.

Mary Walldan of Beach Park has worked with Coleman for 25 years.

“She’s not only a great co-worker, she’s a dear friend,” said Walldan, who added that Coleman has three particular qualities. “A kind heart, honesty, and integrity.”

Not every day in the service of the U.S. mail has been wonderful, despite Coleman’s stream of positive affirmations: “Just be happy. Take lemons and make lemonade. Life is what you make of it.”

The darkest days came 28 years ago when her 15-year-old son, Terry Brennan, died after a car-bicycle accident on Grand Avenue. While Coleman took comfort in the fact that Terry’s transplanted organs gave new life to other human beings, returning to her post office job was difficult.

“When someone gets real picky over a stamp, and you just lost your child — I almost lost it,” Coleman said. “They had to take me off the counter.”

Compassionate friends, Coleman said, and an understanding husband helped her survive a grief that left a lesson as it receded.

“Life is very short,” Coleman said. “I was 19 when my dad told me ‘Life goes very fast.’ But who listens at 19?”

Fifty years after Meshcak Moake observed that bittersweet fact, his daughter passed it along to a customer who accepted his receipt with congratulations.

“It does go fast,” Coleman said. “But each day you start a new day. That’s called survival.”

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