Oldest U.S. postal worker retires

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

REDLANDS, Calif. (AP) — It wasn’t snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night that stopped Chester Arthur Reed from his appointed round. The mail handler just felt it was time to call it quits at age 95.

The fork lift operator retired Wednesday as the nation’s oldest postal worker, ending a career without taking a single sick day. It’s a feat he attributes to a healthy diet of watermelon, alkaline water and an onion sandwich with mayo every day.

‘‘If everyone in the nation ate watermelons, they’d get rid of all the doctors,’’ Reed said.

Despite being partially deaf and walking with a stoop, Reed has worked for more years than many of his co-workers have been alive and has accrued 3,856 hours — nearly two years — of sick leave for not missing a shift in 37 years.

Reed has been a U.S. Postal Service mail handler and forklift operator since he was hired in 1973, making $4 an hour. He hit the $25-an-hour ceiling about 10 years ago.

Reed said he likes his job because ‘‘one, it’s a steady income and, two, they don’t hassle you.’’ But he also knows when to leave, reasoning: ‘‘The Bible says there’s a time for everything. Well, it’s time to retire, and that’s it.’’

Reed works the 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift regularly and logs in more than 12 hours some days, his 55-year-old manager Mary Brunkhorst said. ‘‘We’d have to force him to go home, and he’d say there’s still work to do. It takes a special person to work to age 95. Our generation would not do that.’’

Reed was hired to the postal service after serving in the Air Force, which he joined at age 33. Among the places where he served were Wiesbaden in Germany, Okinawa in Japan, and three Texas bases before ending up in March Field in Riverside where he currently lives.

Despite his travel during military service, Reed still has wanderlust. He and his 59-year-old son Richard visit a continent each year, recently marking their fifth. He is planning another trip that will include Moscow, Helsinki and Dublin, and a second parasailing adventure in Rio de Janeiro.

He last parasailed two years ago, at age 93.

Reed was born in 1914 and grew up in St. Clairsville, Ohio, as the son of an auto mechanic and a housewife. After high school, he worked on Ford Model Ts in his dad’s auto shop. In 1944, Reed met his wife Iva Katherine, a dance instructor, on the dance floor and enlisted in the Air Force three years later.

He retired from active service as a sergeant in 1972. He said he heard the post office was hiring, so he went in for an interview and was hired on the spot.

His military service, which included physical conditioning with pilots, is evident in the rigid discipline surrounding his health. It’s his favorite topic of conversation, said Reed’s co-worker Verna Ortiz, 50.

He believes in drinking alkaline water, to minimize acids that can damage digestive system, and eating sandwiches made ‘‘with a lot of mayonnaise and get a big slice of onion’’ because the vegetable is closely related to garlic, one of the healthiest foods you can eat, he said.

‘‘He taught me to stay away from the two S’s: salt and sugar,’’ Ortiz said, adding she lost 10 pounds in six months by taking his advice.

Reed also likes to point out that his personal hero, the fitness guru Jack LaLanne whom Reed calls ‘‘a fine physical specimen,’’ is only one month his senior.

Reed has one of seven siblings, but has outlived all but the youngest — a 65-year-old who lives near San Diego. Reed’s other son died of cancer at age 58 a few years ago, and Reed’s wife died soon after.

Regardless of his longevity, Reed doesn’t think he’s leaving a legacy. ‘‘Put your hand in a bucket of water, put it in all the way to your wrist. Take it out and the hole that you leave will be how much you’ll be missed,’’ he said.

And while he may not be going to a job anymore, he’s still working hard.

‘‘Hey, if Adam and Eve hadn’t messed up, they’d be living yet,’’ he said. ‘‘So I’m going to try to reach 100.’’