Longtime Postal Carriers Set to Hang Up Mailbags
By HEATHER ZIEGLER
Associate City Editor
WHEELING — Forget the snow, rain, heat and gloom of night. Think about the snarling dogs, youngsters on tricycles and mountains of packages three local letter carriers have contended with over a combined 107 years of service.
Wheeling-based postal workers John Fahey, Joe Key and Randall “Randy” Stephens Sr. are planning to hang up their mailbags at the end of this year, capping off beloved careers and years of friendship with one another and the hundreds of customers they have served on their routes.
Fahey served as a substitute letter carrier for seven years before taking on a full-time route in what was then the Vineyard Hills area of East Wheeling. He has since spent the past 20 years delivering mail in the Woodsdale and Edgwood areas, where he said two small children on tricycles made a game of chasing him on his walking route.
Today, those two children are bosses in the same postal service.
Fahey loves his job, although many changes have occurred in the delivery system. “I was used to walking because I was a caddy at the Wheeling Country Club through high school and college. I love being outside and seeing all the people. Now there is GPS and scanning and things we didn’t have to worry about when I started,” he said.
The job has its ups and downs — literally — as Fahey has walked tens of thousands of miles over the years. He has been bitten by dogs four times, including a nasty attack by a German shepherd guarding a business. He said he has no regrets. He turned down an opportunity to go into management because that would have meant a desk job. He likes being outside, even through the elements.
Fahey’s route has included four high-rise apartment buildings where the residents often are waiting on him just to talk.
“I might be the only person they see all day. I will miss that. I have enjoyed working next to Joe and Randy, too,” he said.
Fahey will end his postal career on Jan. 2, the date of his and his wife Mary’s 28th wedding anniversary.
Stephens began his postal service career in December 1986 in Benwood. Five years ago, that postal facility was consolidated with the Wheeling office.
“I carried the Benwood route for 25 years and then the Oglebay area for the last five years. It’s rare to only have two routes during a career, but I have enjoyed every minute,” Stephens said.
One of his greatest joys of the job was watching the children on his route grow up.
“I delivered their bills from the hospital when they were born and their letters when they were in college,” he said.
When Stephens’ son Randy Jr. died of cancer at age 18, he said he put a bid in for the Wheeling job for a change of scenery.
“Within a year when he passed, I needed a change, something to take my mind off the daily grief. It never goes away, but it helps to have a change,” he said.
In Benwood, there were only six workers.
“It was a great place to work. We were a family,” he said.
Stephens also noted the changes in the postal service business over the years.
“The biggest change is the number of parcels we deliver. It used to be we’d have one bag of parcels,” he said. “Now the whole back of the truck is filled with them because people shop online.”
Stephens said when he retires he plans to spend more time helping his wife Liz and daughter Leigh Ann with the annual golf scramble they host in their son’s name.
Key has been delivering mail since June 1980 when his first route was on Wheeling Island. He then spent the next 25 years delivering mail to his hometown neighborhood of North Wheeling. He also carried mail to the various complexes at Wheeling Hospital. He said the experience has been rewarding and fulfilling.
“It wasn’t like work. I got to see my friends, their parents and then see their kids grow up. I got to know the pulse of the neighborhood. I checked on elderly people in the neighborhood when I’d notice their mail or papers hadn’t been picked up. I found a few people who had fallen in their homes and needed help,” Key said.
Key, an Air Force veteran, said while the weather was a challenge at times, he loved the physical benefits of the job and being out in the fresh air. He said his route is filled with good people, many of whom remember him with plates of cookies at Christmas time.
He, too, is amazed at the increased number of packages they deliver these days as compared to letters.
“I remember the blizzard of 1993 and 3 feet of snow on the ground. But the worst day was the 2004 flood. It poured rain for eight straight hours. Everything was wet, including me. If you look at the positive side, you get to meet an awful lot of people.”
Key also is grateful to his employer who allowed him also to work as the women’s basketball coach at Wheeling Jesuit University for 23 years.
“They did the best they could to help me keep that job. I love working with kids and will look at doing something more with kids when I retire,” Key said.
Key and his wife Beth have one son, Jacob, a senior at West Virginia University.
Longtime fellow letter carrier Rick Foose said he will miss his three friends who represent another era in the postal service. He said they truly looked out for the people.