Joël Méline never dreamed of being a postman.
In 1981, Meline was studying chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota when he ran out of money for his tuition. A few days later, he spotted an ad in the Minnesota Daily for an upcoming postman exam in one of the campus lecture halls.
Meline, then 22, registered, passed the exam, and began working in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul. “I thought, ‘OK, I can earn some money and go to school in the evenings maybe,'” he said, “but then life happens.”
Stays in downtown St. Paul, the Midway district, Rice Street, New Brighton and North St. Paul followed.
Two years later, Meline made an offer for a place at White Bear Lake and never left.
“The best part is the customers,” said Meline, 63, of Vadnais Heights, who is retiring Friday after 41 years on the job. “That’s the whole point – your customers. When you’re on a route for a long time, you see kids going from kindergarten to high school and graduating. Customers are the purpose. They are the reason we do this.
Meline customers in White Bear Lake are celebrating it this week by decorating their mailboxes with balloons and covering it with notes and treats.
“He was the greatest postman ever,” said Kerri Kolstad, who helped organize the farewell festivities.
“He was always waving, smiling and giving treats to the dogs. Even if he were to come to the door to deliver a package, there would still be a dog bone on it for Addie,” Kolstad said of his border collie/springer spaniel mix.
Meline’s constant presence on Evergreen Circle has been especially welcome during the coronavirus pandemic, said Linda Vukelich, who works from home.
“He was such a lifesaver,” she said. “No matter what we’ve delivered here, he’s never frustrated with it. It’s sad to think about him leaving because he’s been such a touchpoint, such a familiar face. He’s part of our neighborhood. , of our small community.
Mike Duesenberg said you could set a clock by Meline.
“He’s very consistent,” he said. “When I hear it, I like to go out and see it and say ‘hi.’ “He’s an extra pair of eyes in the neighborhood. It’s comforting to know that he can watch over us if he leaves. He will be greatly missed.”
The work has not always been easy. Meline said he must have delivered mail when it was 100 degrees and the wind chill was 50 below. “When it’s so cold, you run between houses trying to generate body heat,” he said.
Working in a mail truck without air conditioning when it’s over 100 hours means you’re essentially “sitting in a greenhouse,” he said. “It can be miserable, and I won’t miss it. The faster you ride, the more breeze you get.
He has lost count of the number of times he has been bitten by angry dogs. “You try to avoid them, but they come,” said Meline, who keeps a bag of Milk-Bone dog treats in her mail truck. “It usually comes from dogs whose owners say the dog doesn’t bite just when they latch on to your leg.”
Three years ago, Meline said, he was handing a package to a customer through the front door when his barking dog bit him on the hand. “I said, ‘Your dog just bit me.’ And he said, ‘No, he didn’t.’ I showed him my hand, which was bleeding, and said, “Uh, yeah, he did.”
For the record, the U.S. Postal Service does not condone the distribution of dog treats by postal carriers, he said.
“Officially they’re not allowed, but it’s a dog-friendly strategy,” he said. “Dogs are great.”
For many years, Meline did all carrier training at White Bear Lake. “It’s not an easy job,” he said. “It’s a simple job, but it has many elements. New people would burst into tears just trying to get the job done. I said, ‘If anyone’s going to cry, it’s me. I have been here longer. But it’s overwhelming the first few days, the first few weeks, because you pay attention to so many things that you don’t really have to do after you kind of figure it out.
Meline, who grew up in Circle Pines, met his late wife, Kim, when they were in third grade. They started dating when they were sophomores at Centennial High School and both got jobs at the local Dairy Queen, he said. They graduated in 1977, married in 1978, and had a daughter, Katie Jo Meline.
Kim Meline died in May of complications related to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She was 63 years old.
Meline took six months off to care for Kim before she died. After returning to work last month, he decided it was time to retire.
“It’s time to go,” he said. “The repetitive motion of twisting, turning and lifting catches up with you. This was a temporary job. Forty-one years later, I still see it that way.
With retirement on the horizon, Meline said he plans to re-enroll at U of M and complete his education.
“I have three years of calculus, which really applies to this job,” he said. “My parents made a bet between them whether I would finish school one day. I don’t know which of them bet that I would never finish, but I want to prove whoever was wrong.
But, he says, he will miss his White Bear Lake customers.
“Everyone has been great,” he said. “I don’t feel like I work as much for the post office as for my customers. A good postman is a treasure. We constantly complain about the bad ones, and you can see why because there are a lot of them. It’s their job, and they hate it, and they don’t care.
“But the good ones, they are a treasure,” he said. “They’re an asset to your neighborhood, and I tried to be that.”