Residents in a remote region of Perkins County are fighting for their post office.

Patrons of the Prairie City post office filed a complaint with the Postal Regulatory Commission on Wednesday, asking that their post office be reopened. It was closed Dec. 1.

"Whether it will do any good or not, I have no idea," Ruby VanDenBerg said. "We decided we weren't going to take it lying down. The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the grease."

Ruby and Herman VanDenBerg, both 84, joined a letter-writing campaign and added their names a petition carrying the signatures of 69 people seeking the reopening of the post office.

The VanDenBergs live 20 miles south of Prairie City. Their mailbox sits on a country road 4 miles from their home. Mail delivery has always been limited to three times a week, but the couple could always run into Prairie City on the off days to pick up registered mail, mail packages or anticipated prescriptions.

Now, doing that business requires a 38-mile trip one way to Bison.

"There are some who live further south than us," Ruby VanDenBerg said.

The town of Prairie City might be small -- 21 post office boxes were used -- but three rural mail carriers covered a huge area, VanDenBerg said. The Prairie City Post Office served about 90 households, either in town or on the routes, according to Lois Eggebo, who helped spearhead the petition drive.

In late November, area residents with a Prairie City address were notified that the U.S. Postal Service was holding a meeting in Prairie City on Dec. 1 to discuss the post office.

At the meeting, patrons were informed the post office was closing that day because of environmental issues and furnace problems, Eggebo said. The meeting was held at 11 a.m.; the post office closed for good at 3:30 p.m.

"That same day, they told us if we could find a building, there was a slim possibility that it would reopen and they would leave the material and equipment there," Eggebo said.

The next day, the building was stripped, Eggebo said.

A call to the Postal Regulatory Commission was not returned.

For Eggebo's business and the nine other small businesses with a Prairie City address, the loss of the post office has increased the challenge of doing business in a remote area. The nearest post offices are in Bison, 18 miles east of Prairie City on S.D. Highway 20, or Reva, 14 miles to the west.

When people don't have the time or don't want to spend the time on the road, they now run the risk of putting their mail in an unsecured mailbox along a lonely road or highway, Eggebo said.

The postal service is still using the locked drop box in front of the former post office for outgoing mail; however, it's only for a limited time, Eggebo said.

When the post office closed, mail routes were also adjusted to accommodate sorting the mail in Bison.

One unexpected result was a delay in the delivery of prescriptions from a pharmacy in Hettinger, N.D., which has the area's largest medical facility.

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Bonnie Crow of Bison is a transplant patient and depends upon prompt delivery of her prescriptions. In the past, she could call in a prescription and expect it in the mail the next day.

"Now, it takes two days," Crow said. "I have absolutely noticed the difference."

If Crow can't wait for a mailed prescription, it means a 43-mile drive one way to Hettinger.

According to Eggebo, mail carriers from Hettinger and Bison delivered mail to Prairie City and exchanged mail headed in the other direction. A third mail route originated in Prairie City and made a loop to the south.

Mail is now routed to be sorted in Bison, which has extended the delivery time for items coming from Hettinger, Eggebo said.

Eggebo and her neighbors understand it isn't likely that Postal Commission will recommend re-opening their post office. If it does, there's still the question of finding a suitable building.

"We're not real optimistic, but we have to try; and if they refuse to reopen it, at least we tried," Eggebo said.

Contact Andrea Cook at 394 - 8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com.

 

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