The campus mailroom works like a well-oiled machine. It’s constantly circulating a myriad of documents ranging from admission applications and health forms to issues of The Poughkeepsie Journal and an abundance of presorted standards to the students, faculty, staff and administration of the College. While 16 student employees might be the most visible workers, manning the front windows and shelving packages, behind the scenes, everything is held together by a team of full-time employees boasting over 90 years of experience in the postal service. As a result of opting into the Non-Faculty Employee Voluntary Retirement Program, Manager John Viola and employees Mary Tucker and Vic Cannon will finish out their time with the College at the end of 2014.
Tucker arrived at the College two years after retiring from the United States Post Office in November 1992. She said, “I took an early retirement, but I still put in my 35 years. My mother was ill at that time. I saw this job and they had posted they wanted a postmaster here. But my mother was dying, so the College had to wait for that time to pass.”
Tucker explained she took the job in order to help her daughter attend Hofstra University and maintain her lifestyle. She spoke kindly of her time at the College, citing the beauty of the campus and having the opportunity for her family to visit. “We got a lot accomplished with me working here,” she said.
In the ’90s, Vassar still offered a fully functional post office to the campus community and, according to Tucker, she helped revitalize the environment.
“It was so disorganized,” she stated, reminiscing. “So with the experience that I did have, I tried to clean it up. We had to write everything by hand. With every box, we had to write the number and the name of the student, we had to take a piece of paper and put it on the box. All the labels on the boxes were one color and we had no way to identity the students’ status other than these little colored dots we would take and put on the boxes.”
Now the boxes are separated by colored labels for student class years, offices and faculty members. Around this time the College implemented a computer system, which helped streamline the process for checking in packages and alleviated the employees of added stress. “They changed the configuration of the whole post office,” Tucker said.
Eight years after Tucker started working with the College, Cannon was hired in 2002. He had retired from a 28-year run with the postal service. “I was 60 years old when I retired and I wanted to do something else.”
After 11 years with the College, Cannon was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2013. After already having surgery this past April, he underwent chemo until more recently, when he started dialysis. In April of 2015, he plans to travel to Israel for a dialysis procedure.
Still, Cannon tries to make every day enjoyable through humor and his love of people. “I think people are one of the most important aspects we have,” he said.
For Cannon, a work environment is supposed to be about a joint effort of the workers; no member of the team should be made to feel inferior, including students. “Even when I was a manager, I felt like I worked with the people. I never felt that people worked for me,” he said, adding, “I found that I really worked well with [the students] and they worked well with me. They’re vital to the College not only as students, but also as employees.”
Tucker further emphasized her appreciation of the students. “The students have so much life, so much energy and personality. If the students weren’t helping us, I don’t know how we would get that job done. They man the window, and they deal the most with the mail.”
The appreciation for the students is not the only factor that bonds the three postal service veterans. Although Cannon has only been with Vassar for 12 years, he has known Manager John Viola since 1973, when Cannon worked as a clerk under Viola, who worked as the superintendent of window services at the Poughkeepsie post office.
Currently, Viola serves as the head of the entire operation. Over the last seven years, Viola has integrated himself into the Vassar community. He’s audited a history course on the rise and fall of the Nazi party with Associate Professor of History Maria Höhn, plays tennis at the Walker Field House and has taken a course on non-combat boxing.
Like Tucker and Cannon, Viola retired once before, but it was short-lived. He said, “I retired from the postal service on a Friday and I started working here on a Monday. I’ve never been out of work for a single week since I was 17 and a half years old. And I’ve never taken off more than two weeks at any time in my entire life. This is going to be a change in my life.”
Viola, Tucker and Cannon will not be the only ones experiencing a change. The future of the mailroom remains unclear. According to Viola, the College is discussing the possibility of combining the Card Office, the Copy Center and the mailroom, with extended hours to make it more convenient for students. “They’re talking about possibly a one-stop shopper for the Vassar community where they can get a lot of things done at one place,” he said.
At the moment, Tucker stated, no immediate action has been made to fill the three empty positions. She said, “Right now, no one is being trained for our jobs, and it seems like someone does not have the insight to see that someone has to be in this seat to be trained, so that when we walk out of here it’ll be a smooth transition.”
At the end of all of this, though, Cannon thinks the students will be affected the most. “I leave with a heavy heart, because the students are what’s important to me. I’m not sure that the students are going to get what they deserve…Somebody’s going to have to do [the work]. I think students are going to become one of the important work forces, but that’s not what they’re here for.”
Although uncertain, Viola believes that whatever changes may arise will ultimately work out. He said, “Nobody really likes change, but I’ve been through three major reorganizations in my lifetime, and I’ve always found that the end result is beneficial to the organization.”
While the future remains open in many aspects for Tucker, Cannon and Viola, the three are excited about the freedom before them and have expressed gratitude for their time at the College. Viola said, “It’s so important to enjoy the moment, enjoy today. And to not take it for granted. Enjoy today and get every drop of pleasure and love out of today that you can.”