Mike the Mailman Embraces His Post-postal Days
For nearly half a century, Mike Herr has been Mike the Mailman at Penn State's tiny post office at the center of the University Park campus. That changed when he retired April 1, 2016.
It took two weeks for Penn Staters to say goodbye.
Mike Herr announced his retirement in February. It was the lead news item on campus and across the region.
People began streaming into the campus post office in the basement of McAllister Building to say their goodbyes.
Herr said he was touched and surprised by how many people showed up.
“My wife says I have an impact on the community, on the people,” he said. “I don’t know about it, but seeing all these people here saying all the nice things to me, maybe I do!”
The White House sent him a congratulatory letter praising his 48 years of work. Herr thought it came from university president Eric Barron until his wife set him straight. "'No,' she told me. ‘The President of the United States.’ ”
He said he thought it was very nice of the White House to do that.
On his last day of work, the post office was turned into a sea of celebration. Students, faculty, long-time friends, his family – even the Nittany Lion was there to bid him farewell.
They shared their favorite Mike the Mailman stories, like the 30 cardboard signs he made for stressed out students. Each sign said “relax” in the student's native language. Whenever a student seemed overwhelmed, he would flash out the appropriate sign, trying to put a smile on their face.
“I try to make this a fun environment, a happy environment,” Herr said.
Herr would ring a bell and bring out the “nice sneakers” sign whenever he spotted stylish footwear in the post office. He offered to put a stamp that says “I mailed this two weeks ago” on packages when patrons worried that they had procrastinated too long on their mailing duties.
“He is the happiness that you can always count on,” said Michael Scott Brulo, a junior majoring in biochemistry.
A group of students arrived wearing custom t-shirts with Herr’s portrait on the front. On the back the shirts read, “who loves you baby?!” – another classic Mike the Mailman stamp.
His family was there to savor the moment.
Both of Herr’s daughters said they never thought of him as Mike the Mailman. “He is just our dad. He believes that if you give kindness, kindness comes back ten-fold,” said MaryKate Herr.
“He even got a little choked up,” said Michaela Herr, Mike Herr’s younger daughter. “I can count the times he got choked up like that with my fingers. This is really the day where he knows that it is the last.”
Herr said a teacher friend once told him to never change answers for a test. So, no, “I have no regrets.”
Herr says he will still be around.
“I love this campus. I love the kids, I miss you all,” he said, resting in a tent on the Old Main lawn ten days after his retirement. He was taking a break between cake-cutting work and photo-ops at a PSi (heart) U party sponsored by the Lion Ambassadors.
Herr says he has campus appearances lined up all the way through fall semester. For the rest of his retirement schedule, he says he plans to play tennis, practice his poker face and work on a book.
The scope of his literary efforts are a secret.
“I cannot spoil the book,” Herr said. “But it will be really good.”
A lot of people asked him about retirement.
“It is going great!” he laughed. “Like every day is a Saturday.”
Video: The “real" mailman is still going strong
“Mike calls me the "real" mailman,” says former co-worker Pat Gilham. “But he is still Mike the Mailman.”
Gilham is a postal carrier, responsible for distributing most of the mail on Penn State’s University Park campus. He has been on his route for 27 years and counting. “Of all my years here, I spent 24, 25 of them with Mike,” Gilham said.
“I'm going to miss him,” Gilham said. “I don’t know what’s in store next, but hopefully it is good. We’ll see.”
About the Contributors
/ Digital and Print Journalism
Min Xian is an aspiring multimedia journalist. She is skilled at news writing, radio reporting and video storytelling. She has professional experience in photojournalism as well. Currently she is exploring storytelling with 360 videos.
Previously Min worked as a radio news intern for WPSU, a NPR member station in State College, Pa. She was also a contributing writer and freelance photographer for the Centre Daily Times.
Min has earned international reporting experience covering the European refugee crisis in Greece. She also produced a urban reporting piece of a community farm in Baltimore. Throughout her experience both in professional news organizations and in advanced college courses, she covers stories in diversity, immigration, environment issues and art.
Graduated as the student marshal of the journalism department in Spring 2017, Min is a native speaker in Mandarin and Cantonese. She is professionally fluent in English, and tries really hard when it comes to making puns.