Mitchell's ‘Smiling Postman’ saluted for friendly serviceJim Schorzmann credits father for teaching him importance of a smile. He delivered mail for 26 years.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Mitchell wished a fond retirement to postal carrier Jim Schorzmann Saturday at the VFW Hall on Main Street.
Schorzmann, 57, known around town as “The Smiling Postman,” delivered mail in the Mitchell area for more than 26 years. One might have thought the visitors who trouped into the VFW were honoring the loss of a great dignitary. In a way, they were mourning, but in this case, it was the loss of a daily smile and a wave they would miss.
“That’s all I did. I just smiled and waved at everybody,” Schorzmann said, astounded at the outpouring of goodwill that drew about 100 people to his party.
“I can’t believe how many people remember you because of that.”
It was a gesture that was simple, yet profoundly appreciated. Those who attended Schorzmann’s retirement party said his smiles and waves gave their days a boost.
It was just a family tradition he picked up and passed along, Schorzmann said. His father Victor, who ran a grocery store and meat locker in his hometown of Alpena, was his example.
“My dad always said about smiling and waving, ‘It doesn’t cost a dime to be friendly’ — that was his motto,” Schorzmann said.
Well-wishers filed into the VFW to grab a bite, talk over old times and wish their postman well. All signed his guestbook and a few dropped off a gift.
He met them at the door and gave them what they came for — liberally distributing his trademark smiles while exchanging hugs and numerous thank-yous.
A smile and a wave. So simple, yet to those Schorzmann served on his various routes over the years, it meant a lot.
Schorzmann said he doesn’t have any monopoly on smiling and waving. He believes it’s something that’s part of South Dakota friendliness.
After service with the Air Force in the United States and Germany from 1973 to 1977, Schorzmann returned to Mitchell and attended Mitchell Vo-Tech, now Mitchell Technical Institute, to learn accounting.
He also worked at Dakota Pork and Plainsco, an electrical and plumbing supply house in Mitchell before he learned of a mail clerk opening in the Alexandria Post Office in 1985.
He would go on to work in Mitchell as a substitute and on multiple carrier routes though the years. With time included for his military service, Schorzmann racked up 30.5 years of service toward his retirement.
“I was all over Mitchell,” he said. Schorzmann ended his career delivering mail in the downtown area, a route he always wanted. One of his first routes was in the neighborhoods near Avera Queen of Peace Hospital. “I knew I was walking a lot but I really didn’t know how much,” he said. “We sat down and figured out that in those 12 blocks, I was putting on about 20 miles a day.” It turns out that all those steps up each walkway to each letter slot or mailbox added up, Schorzmann said.
About 13 years later he got a 14-mile route and in his last route was only 4 miles a day. He remembers other states where friendliness wasn’t as common, where waves and smiles were uncommon.
“When I hit South Dakota I knew I was home,” he said. “Everybody waved at you.”
Not everyone appreciated Schorzmann’s smile. “I got bit four times in my first eight years,” he said. Management finally advised that if a dog didn’t look friendly that letter carrier could bypass the house that day. If there was anything that tested Jim Schorzmann’s sunny disposition, it was the winter of 1996.
“That was the worst winter we ever had,” he said. “It seems like every day there was a blizzard and I was trudging through snow up to my behind all the time. The snow drifts were terrible and dragging my mail cart through the snow was like dragging a dead guy around,” Schorzmann said, laughing.
He said the spikes he wore on his shoes for traction that year threw off his gait.
“It just ruined my hips,” he said, without exaggeration. Schorzmann has since had both his hips replaced. During those dark and snowy days he gave himself daily pep talks, reminding himself he was doing it for the public and to support his family.
“We just saddled up and did what we had to do,” he said “When that winter was over we were all so happy.”
Schorzmann delivered his last letter on Dec. 31 and turned in his faithful mail cart that he dubbed “Trigger.” He asked the Postal Service if he could keep his trusty mechanical pack animal, but Postal regulations being what they are, that wasn’t possible.
Schorzmann said he measured his approaching retirement by watching the children on his route grow up.
He helped where he could, checking on seniors whose mailboxes weren’t being emptied daily, helping one man who slipped and fell on the ice — they’re still friends today — helping to push out cars stuck in snow, and listening to the stories kids shared with him.
He misses the home cooking he smelled along his routes in the early years.
He said he plans to spend more time in his garden as well as fishing and hunting.
The smiles and waves aren’t going away Schorzmann said — they just won’t be official any longer. He plans to still go downtown and visit with the downtown business people he served on his final route.
Schorzmann and his wife Joanne, who works for UPS, have four children. Daughter Heidi, who attended the party on Saturday, said her dad walks the walk of a happy man. “He always tried to make everything fun for us growing up,” she said. “He even made games out of doing the dishes and the outside chores. There’s not anyone who doesn’t have a good thing to say about my dad, and it makes me proud.” And that’s not a bad legacy. “It was the people and the kids who made it worthwhile,” Schorzmann said. “It wasn’t just a job. It was a way of life.”