Retiring with so many memories

The folks over at Pilgrim Place are well-known for their graciousness and generosity. These traits were on full display Tuesday afternoon as they paid tribute to their longtime mail carrier Janice Harper and her husband Michael?Robles.

Ms. Harper, 64, officially retired on Tuesday after 39 faithful years serving Pilgrim Place and the surrounding neighborhood. The Pilgrims paid tribute to Ms. Harper the best way they knew how—by throwing a tribute party.

“I don’t think there is any place better,” Ms. Harper said of Pilgrim Place. “The people are special, very special.”

Ms. Harper began working for the postal service in November 1978, one month before her future husband, Michael Robles, began his job at the post office. The couple met on the job while working together on Sunday deliveries. They married in 1984, and retired together on August 1. 

The couple shared incredible stories of what they encountered while on the job.

Mr. Robles, 62, recalled witnessing a college professor crash his bicycle when his book bag got lodged in the spokes.

“I raced toward the middle of the street, and checked on him to see if he was okay,” Mr. Robles said. “He was hurt pretty badly. But I shaded him and I called the residents for help.”

Another story involved a little girl who was always incredibly happy to see the mail get delivered. Mr. Robles recalled the girl would always, “jump and scream and hug me” whenever he would drop off packages.

“After a month I asked the mom, why is she reacting that way,” Mr. Robles added. “She said, ‘she thinks you buy the packages and you bring it to them as a gift.’”

When working as a mail carrier for a certain part of a city for as long as Ms. Harper and Mr. Robles have, one tends to see the neighborhood evolve from an intimate perspective.

When she was first assigned her route, Ms. Harper remembers delivering divorce papers to a woman who lived on Sixth Street. In her position as a mail carrier, Ms. Harper had a front row seat to how that woman’s life progressed.

“I delivered the birth certificates for her kids, her new marriage certificate to her second husband, and now her kids are in college and  have gotten their diplomas,” she said. “I don’t think you realize it, you don’t really think about it. Like when you see the kids come, or we see their children visit them.”

She especially loved working in Pilgrim Place, where the residents were always friendly to her.

“Pilgrims are wonderful, they’ll talk for a couple of minutes and then you’re on your way,” Ms. Harper said. “Some people like to talk for a long time, it’s hard to get away from them. Pilgrims aren’t that way, just a ‘how are you.’”

Both Ms. Harper and Mr. Robles noted they would miss getting to know their customers the most. It’s the advantage of having a walking route, Ms. Harper said—the human interaction makes the job more meaningful.

“I love the job, because your life has meaning and purpose if you can make anyone else’s life a little better,” Mr. Robles said. “And just delivering the mail, the people are so appreciative.”

Among the tributes to Ms. Harper was a poem recited by Ron Evans titled, “Janice Harper, Letter Carrier, Extraordinaire.” It read, in part:

“There may be days we don’t think of you,

         but hardly a day when we don’t depend

         on you.

You have not merely delivered the mail.

         You have been our living link with

         family, friends and associates the world over.

You have hand-delivered to our homes

         love letters and notes of sadness

         vital information about our finances

         legalities of all sorts,

         requests for support,

         communications from government,

         its officials and those who wish to be elected

         to governmental office

Now you join us in retirement.

         Together with all of zip code 91711,

         we pray that your retirement years will be

         as rich, restful and rewarding as your

         unfailing super service has been to us.”


As for retirement plans, Ms. Harper was a bit mum when asked by Dale Morgan, the Pilgrim who helped put on the event.

“We don’t have anything really planned,” Ms. Harper said.

In the meantime, the couple plans to go to Sequoia National Park for some much-needed R&R, followed by a family reunion in San Juan Capistrano. From there, the couple will most likely spend some time with their three kids and 10 grandchildren.

Pilgrim Place CEO Ann Schiff was especially appreciative of how Ms. Harper could sense something was amiss at a Pilgrim’s cottage.

“If Janice noticed that mail was piling up at an address here at Pilgrim Place, but she hadn’t been told someone was away, she would immediately let us know,” Ms. Schiff said. “And for that we will be forever grateful, so thank you.”

The Pilgrims even dedicated a brick to Ms. Harper, which was placed front and center next to the flagpole outside Porter Hall.

The brick reads, “Neither snow, nor rain, for thirty-nine years, our faithful courier Janice Harper. Thank you, your Pilgrim Place friends.”

—Matthew Bramlett


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