Penn State students put a stamp on Mike the Mailman’s career.
Mike Herr, the 48-year mailman, called his job behind the counter an adventure. It ended when he took his spot Friday in Penn State’s tiny post office for the last time, hours before he would be “Mike the Retired Mailman.”
“It’s not a joke,” he said. “It’s really happening.”
Herr’s job was never work, he said. It was an experience to share with others, not only to give the next student in line help, but also to give people a reason to smile, to have a good day.
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One of his signature greetings, after all, was simply, “I’ve never had a bad day, so how are you?”
He would then sometimes pull out a sign to say, “nice sneakers” or “rahatlayin” to a student who seemed stressed out. Rahatlayin is Turkish for “relax,” a word he had a sign for in dozens of languages.
“My dad and my mom have been such great role models,” his daughter, Marykate, said.
But talking to Mike the Mailman about his effect on students at Penn State is like chess. Checkmate would be getting him to acknowledge that he is beloved for the short spurts of time he spent with each person in a line that sometimes went out to McAllister Street and weaved around Pollock Road.
It’s a game that can’t be won.
He was pressed in February about leaving a “big impression on campus and the surrounding community.”
“Thank you so much for thinking that,” he said two months ago.
To some, it was clear he’d make a lasting impression on the Penn State community going way back to 1968.
After Herr announced his upcoming retirement, readers shared their Mike the Mailman stories with the CDT. They recalled during his first year on the job when he made a sign that referred to himself as the official post office sponsor of the 1968 Summer Olympics. Others said they would switch lines just to see him for a few minutes. Some current students said it was a bucket list item to meet Mike the Mailman.
Senior Lauren Smith brought him Cape Cod Potato Chips on Friday, a gesture made by many who brought him something they remember him for.
Smith said he told her how much he liked the snack in February, which is when she decided to bring him some before her graduation.
“He’s always put a smile on my face every time I came here,” Smith said. “Even when you’re having a really good day he leaves you feeling happier than when you came in.”
Dozens of students threw him a surprise retirement party after his lunch break.
Seniors P.J. Tatano and Kevin Montminy talked about honoring Herr after his retirement was announced. They decided to collect letters and mementos from Penn State graduates and students to give him.
“All students are affected by Mike,” Montminy said. “We wanted everyone to be able to give him something to pay him back for everything he did for us.”
Tatano, a Lion Ambassador, said it would feel weird not talking to prospective students about Mike the Mailman. Montminy won’t forget his first time in the post office.
“I remember just coming in and thinking I could just get a key and leave,” Tatano said. “I ended up staying and talking to him for five minutes instead of having a quick transaction. He’s so much more than our mailman, and that’s why he’s so special.”
Herr’s wife, Katie, and daughters Marykate and Michaela watched the hoopla surround him when he returned from lunch. Students yelled “Thank you,” when he walked back into his post office.
“I do love Penn State,” Herr said, his voice trailing off.
He tapped his leg, swayed side to side and searched for something more to say, sometimes parting his lips only to slip back in the moment speechless.
Katie, his wife of almost 40 years, put her arm around him. She talked before their lunch about growing up in Lock Haven, the same small community that raised him.
“I remember seeing him at a high school dance dancing with the broom, and I knew who he was,” she said. “His mother raised him well, and he had two older sisters. His mother told him, ‘Don’t ever leave a dance without ever asking every girl to dance. You don’t want anybody to feel upset.’ He was raised that way.”
And it’s how they’ve raised their daughters.
“Our family is about being a part of each other’s lives, and we go by an all for one, one for all mentality,” Michaela added. “We wanted to be here to support him and a part of his big day.”
And so did everyone else.