WATSON — Residents in Watson have certainly known their
differences in recent years, but on this issue everyone has found common
ground. The possibility of seeing the town’s post office closed has led
residents in the Chippewa County community to send letters and start a petition
drive to keep it open.
The story is no different in other small towns in the region
that have had their post offices placed on a list of those being considered for
Everyone knows the value of postal service to businesses and
A post office is part of the fabric of life in a small
community as well. In Watson, 90-year-old Ernest Solseth drove his riding lawn
mower to the post office to pick up the mail during the summer. Post master
Jodi Williamson dashed outside to hand his mail to him.
To the south in the Yellow Medicine County community of
Hanley Falls, a campaign is also underway to save the post office. Hanley Falls
Mayor Richard Hagen is not exaggerating when he described the post office as a
‘’life link.’’ Not only does it still serve to connect the community to the
outside world, but it serves to link people within community. It’s the one
location where most people visit frequently. It’s where the town posts
bulletins and news for people in the community to see.
All of this is up against a reality that none of us can
change. The continual trend towards electronic communication has meant a steady
decline in revenues for the United States Postal Service. In the last five
years, the volume of postal business had declined by 20 percent. In the last 10
years, first class, single-piece mailings have declined by half, according to
Pete Nowacki, communications director with the USPS in Minneapolis.
The USPS is struggling with how to cope with the changes, and
there is no doubt that post offices will be closing.
That said, communities have every reason to fight to save
what they have. We’ve written in the past on the research by Ben Winchester at
the University of Minnesota, Morris. Contrary to the perception that is out
there, small towns remain viable. Many are seeing an influx of college-educated
people in their 30’s and 40’s who want to live and raise their children in
Watson and Hanley Falls offer proof of the vitality and
resiliency that belongs to small towns, but is often not seen by the outside
world. In the official USPS write-up about the two communities, they are
described as “comprised of farmers, retirees and those who commute to work at
nearby communities and may work in local businesses.’’ Chagrined, Watson City Clerk Susan Brickweg pointed out that this dismissive “dead and dying’’ litany is also far
removed from reality. One-third of the residents in Watson are under 19 years
of age. She points out that it is young families who are buying the homes that
come up for sale. That’s true too in Hanley Falls.
Saving the post office is not a matter of staving off the
inevitable decline of small towns. It’s a matter of keeping in place the
infrastructure of communities that have already proven their worth and
resiliency. They are fighting now to
keep a fair and level playing field to continue their move forward.
—By Tom Cherveny