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Carried with love

Longtime rural carrier enjoys delivering mail

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Parcel buggy

Wanda Burchfield says she’s not one to waste.

The Greenwood native and resident has been using the same parcel buggy that she received on her first day of work as a rural mail carrier at the Itta Bena Post Office more than 30 years ago.

“Everybody asks, ‘Do you want a bigger one, and I say, ‘No, I like the little one,” Burchfield said.

The buggy is made of a thick canvas fabric with a metal frame. It has some wear and tear, but Burchfield doesn’t mind.

Every morning, she fills her buggy and pushes it to her vehicle, where she unloads its contents into her white Chevrolet Silverado before beginning her day delivering mail.

Burchfield also has been using the same route book for more than 30 years.

“It actually has my time sheets and my route descriptions and everything,” she said.

She’s made some updates to it over the years as her route has grown.

Before beginning her route earlier this week, she said, “I was born and raised in Greenwood, but seems like I know everybody in Itta Bena. Never knew anybody before I started working here, but now I know everybody it seems like.”

The 73-year-old isn’t thinking about retirement any time soon. She said maybe in three to five years.

“They tell me to keep working as long as my health is good, so I’m going to keep working,” Burchfield said. “Being out in the country is good for you.”

• • • 

Burchfield was married to the late James Burchfield, who was a longtime Greenwood fireman and also worked as a carpenter. They had four children.

Burchfield began working at the Itta Bena Post Office in 1983.

“I didn’t start this job until my youngest son started school,” she said.

Burchfield’s predecessor approached her about becoming a sub for him.

“He asked, ‘Would you like this job?’ We talked it over, and that’s how it started,” she said.

Burchfield said she didn’t know much about the countryside surrounding the town of Itta Bena before accepting the job.

“You had to learn which roads to go on and which way to go in case you get lost,” she said.

It took about six months to get used to her route and her mail case, which is what carriers use to sort the mail for their routes.

“It took me longer to learn the case than the route part — to me, that was the easiest part,” Burchfield said.

Burchfield became the Itta Bena Post Office’s permanent rural carrier in 1987.

Burchfield now has 750 customers on her 128-mile route.

“I know them all,” she said.

One of the most enjoyable parts of her job is getting to know the people on her route.

“You get to know people on your route,” she said. “You know them when they are young. You see them marry, and then you see them have kids. Then, you deliver mail to their grandkids. So you really get attached.”

• • • 

In her 30-plus years as a rural carrier, Burchfield has had several encounters that stand out.

“I’ve been over here 34 years and got bitten once by a dog when I was trying to deliver a package,” she said. “That’s a pretty good record.”

There’s one experience Burchfield will most likely never forget.

“This man came from out of the field, and he was wanting me to stop,” she recalled. “So I stopped, and he had been shot.”

Burchfield helped the man, who had been shot in the leg, lay down on the road and then called 911. She made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

“It was out of a belt,” Burchfield said. “I’ve had CPR, but I didn’t really know how to deal with anything like that. I thought, ‘Well, he’s bleeding so profusely, I need to do something.’”

The medics and deputy sheriffs soon arrived to the scene. Since then, Burchfield said she occasionally sees the man she helped while on her route.

“He said, ‘You know, you saved my life,’ and I said, ‘Well, I did what anybody else would do,’” she said.

While delivering mail in the country, Burchfield has also spotted a variety of wildlife.

“I’ve seen bobcats and, of course, you see the deer and everything,” she said.

Burchfield said, however, she’s never had an encounter where she felt she was in danger.

“It’s farm country over here,” she said. “The farmers are really good, and if I have a problem, they can come help me.”

• • • 

Over the years, and with the popularity of emails, texting and online shopping, there’s been some change at the post office.

“The mail volume has slowed down, but the flats — which we call magazines, newspapers and things like that — to me have about stayed the same,” she said. “The packages have increased.”

The Itta Bena Post Office has changed, too. It once was located on Humphreys Street in an older building, but a new office was built on Dewey Street in 2000.

Several years ago, Burchfield took an art class and painted the Humphreys Street post office. Her artwork now hangs on the walls of the Dewey Street office.

The Itta Bena Post Office has a handful of employees. The postmaster is Gwen Ellis. She’s served in this position since 2012. Ellis is also a 30-year employee of the Postal Service.

“I have been to several post offices, but this is by far the best,” she said. “The employees are the best. The community is a nice community; everybody knows everybody. I enjoy working here.”

Ellis jokes with Burchfield and says, “When you retire, I’ll retire.”

“Why I say I could retire here is because I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Ellis said. “It’s a nice place here with good employees.”

Ellis said since she’s been postmaster Burchfield has never missed a day of work except once when she had a 24-hour bug.

Burchfield has won numerous awards. She recently received her 30-year Service Award, and she was honored as the 2005-06 Carrier of the Year. Burchfield has also served as the state president and vice president for the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association.

“It’s a real family oriented organization, the rural carriers,” Burchfield said. “I’ve known carriers from all over the state, because I’ve gone to a lot of national conventions. ... We have about 1,900 carriers in the state, and we probably know something about every one of them.”

Burchfield said she believes the Postal Service is not only the most trusted government entity but also a good place to work.

“To me, it’s a pretty easy job because I’ve been doing it so long,” she said. “It’s a good job. If anybody wants to work for the Postal Service, become a rural carrier.”

• Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or rrobison@gwcommonwealth.com.

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