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Tri-County News
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August 15, 2013     Tri-County News
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And instead of coming in with their letters or packages to mail, they came to see the man they became friends with during his years in charge of the post office. Wilhelm, who took over as post- master in South Haven in the fall of 2007, may not have served the tiny Wright County community for decades, but there's no doubt he left his mark on many people. Wilhelm, who graduated from Delano High School in 1977, joined the Marines soon after, and served a six-year stint. It was in the Marines where Wilhelm learned a lot of what it takes to run a well- oiled operation. Interviewing Wilhelm is a lit- tle like attending a motivational seminar. He's not "timid, shy or reserved," three attributes he joked that he was. Instead, he's a decision-maker, someone who isn't afraid to set sail and make sure the job gets done. Wilhelm may have made a career out of the Marines if a bad back hadn't hampered him. His back, he said, was injured in high school while he was lifting weights. Over the years he has had two back surgeries and is missing some vertebrae and discs. He left high school a 5-foot, 6-inch, 186-pound pudge and exited boot camp in San Diego with a 29-inch waist. Today his waist may be a tad larger, but so too is his reservoir of knowledge. When he left the Marine Corp he went to the job center in Rob- binsdale and began looking for work. "Working in the post office is the only job I did not want," he said of being leery of another large, bureaucratic entity. But Wilhelm, who has always been a spiritual and religious man, soon found that God works in mysterious ways. And in Novem- ber 1983, he began a job as a mail sorter in the Twin Cities' main post office. That led to a series of advancements that took him from letter carrier to management. The South Haven job came open and Wilhelm was appointed. His six years serving the 2,000 or so customers that South Haven serves has been interesting as well as challenging. There was the fire in March 2010 that destroyed many build- ings in town but the post office was saved. There was the suicide of one of his clerks that surprised and saddened the town. "How the hell do you overcome something like that?" Wilhelm asked. But as small towns are inclined to do, people pulled together. Folks like Pete Flatten who runs a business next door to the post office called Cedar Works. Doz- ens of times over the year he came to the post office's rescue when it would lose power. He'd start his generator and haul over 200 feet of extension cord so flood lights could keep the government office open. "Do you know how much he charged the U.S. Postal Service?" Wilhelm asked. "Not a penny." And why were people so willing to help the post office? Well, it was more like they were helping Wil- helm. South Haven Postmaster Doug Wilhelm has a positive conversation with his customers as part of his philosophy of treating other people the way he wants to be treated. He has made many friends during his tenure. Staff photo by Mike Nistler. "I work diligently at treating other people the way I want to be treated," he said, describing sev- eral instances where he went to bat for his employees and the folks of South Haven. "It takes thousands of breaths to blow up a balloon, but only one prick to deflate it," Wilhelm said about his desire to make his posi- tive outlook contagious. What will Wilhelm do in retire- ment. Well, the first thing he did was go fishing up to Lake of the Woods with some friends. And then it's off to the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife of 18 years, Theresa. Wilhelm, who lives in Clear Lake, said he will stay in touch with the town he served. "I established some friendships that I didn't recognize I had until now." "He's a great guy," she said. Then a customer walked in the front door and came to the coun- ter. "You're the best postmaster we've had around here for a long time," said Rich Bauer, who came in to wish Wilhelm the best of luck. Bauer said Wilhelm was good at his job because "he had a feel for the job and he cared about peo- ple." Rumors of the possible closing of the South Haven Post Office are just that, Wilhelm said- rumors. "This office's chances of going away are nil," he said. The South Haven office serves communities in three counties- Wright, Stearns and Meeker. And because it has its own zip code - 55382 - it is going to be around for a long, long time, he said. When asked if he'd miss his As for filling his shoes, that task job, Wilhelm paused, and then got will be taken over by Patty Nelson, choked up. who will be the officer in charge. "Yes, I'm going to miss this." Nelson has been with the post office since 1997. And what does Nelson think of Wilhelm? 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