NEMO | Sometimes a post office is more than just a place to pick up packages, mail a letter or buy stamps. Sometimes, as is the case in the tiny town of Nemo, the post office is the social hub of the community.
In 2011, when the U.S. Postal Service proposed closing thousands of rural post offices, the plan terrified Nemo residents who value their post office’s place in the community, and suddenly, they had to contemplate driving an hour round-trip to Rapid City or Deadwood to pick up their mail.
“It’s an important part of our community,” said Willie Saye, who, with her husband Troy, operates the Nemo Guest Ranch once owned by publishing and Homestake Mining magnate George Hearst. “It’s not only the post office; it’s the local watering hole where people come in and exchange stories. People are there every day, and they all socialize a bit. It’s a comfortable spot, and the coffee is always on. It would just be devastating to see it closed."
While that could still happen, it appears residents received a reprieve for now.
This week, the Nemo Post Office issued a notice to patrons that effective Nov. 1, hours of operation would be reduced to 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Though townspeople breathed a collective sigh of relief that their post office would remain open, the good news was tempered by the fact Nemo Postmaster Kathy Stygles, a 27-year veteran of the USPS, would lose her job in January.
So important is the post office to the community, that nearly half its 508 residents returned surveys to the USPS after the agency sought comment and preferred hours of operation should the Nemo Post Office be designated for reduced hours, said USPS Communications Program Specialist Ernie Swanson of Seattle.
“I would say that return rate is a little better than average,” Swanson said last week. “We compiled the surveys and most of the people wanted to keep the office open the way it is, but that’s not an option. When given four alternatives, most people preferred to have the reduced hours rather than close the office altogether.
“At this point, we aren’t looking at closing post offices at all,” he added. “We originally looked at closing 3,600 under-used offices in 2011, but we backed off and decided we would look at reducing hours of retail operation. Today, we’re looking at approximately 13,200 post offices for that possibility of reducing hours.”
On Wednesday, Stygles, 57, was circumspect about her forced retirement from a job she has grown to love after 17 years in Nemo, where she said she has been surrounded by loving neighbors.
“I’m losing my job, but I’m going into retirement,” Stygles sighed. “It’ll be another adventure, I guess. I think I’ll just go around and spoil grandkids.”
Despite planned trips to see family in Montana and Idaho, the postmaster said she would miss the camaraderie and community pride she has always felt in Nemo.
“I think I had no reason to go anywhere else because I really enjoyed my job here,” she said. “I love my community and I’ve always felt very honored to be postmaster, very humbled and very blessed.”
By all accounts, Stygles’ Nemo neighbors will be as sad to see her go as she is in departing.
“It seems like these small towns first close the school and then they take everything away,” said Marilyn Keough, who first moved to Nemo in 1962 when she married her husband, Don. “If the big shots knew what was going on, they’d probably just shake their heads. They don’t have a clue what a small post office means to a town. But the post office is the social place for Nemo, the place for people to meet and visit.”
More than anyone, Keough claimed Stygles had made the Nemo Post Office one of the most popular places in the unincorporated community, located 17 miles northwest of Rapid City on the scenic Nemo Road.
“The postmaster has done so much to keep the town together, and Kathy has truly been the hub of the community,” Keough said. “She always has flowers out front that make everybody feel so welcome and the post office is in full-bloom this summer. If there’s a death, there’s a card and everybody in town signs it. If there’s an illness, everybody knows about it. It’s definitely more than just a post office. It’s a close-knit community, and Kathy is just a wonderful, wonderful person.”
When told of her neighbor’s praise, Stygles lamented the advance of technology that has made letter-writing all but obsolete, the national fervor to reduce mounting USPS deficits, and the need to decrease overhead.
“Change is upon us, and once our customers get used to it, things will work out all right,” she said. “It’s the world of technology. But I thank them so very much for their kind words. Each of them has blessed my heart in one way or another.”