After 32 years of delivering mail to Oakton residents, Ron Rusnak will make one last round through the Miller Heights subdivision this Friday and then leave his mail truck at the post office for the next mail carrier. Then, he said, he will likely go home and begin his retirement with a cold beverage.
This April marks 36 years of service to the government for Rusnak, including four years in the Army, and he said he had long planned to make this month his last. "I had just had enough. It was time," he said.
"Look at the guy," added his friend Mark Lowe. "He looks like he's going to drop dead any second."
Lowe, Rusnak and Steve Lundberg are the last three mail carriers at the Oakton Post Office who remember when it was a two-room office near Appalachian Outfitters, at the corner of Hunter Mill and Chain Bridge roads, and Lundberg says he plans to retire some time this summer.
"Because of my significant youth over these guys, I'm sticking around a couple more years," said Lowe.
When Rusnak started delivering Oakton's mail at the age of 28, there were only two mail routes in the town — with a total of 800 deliveries — and only two carriers and two clerks in the office. Lowe recalled that supervisors had only appeared every two weeks to deliver the paychecks and collect the time sheets.
The four employees have become 38 in the office at any given time; the two routes grew to 14; the number of deliveries has gone from 800 to 12,200. And all that in spite of the fact that the office now delivers to a smaller area, said Rusnak, some of its routes having been turned over to the Fairfax branch.
"There wasn't much in Oakton," Lundberg said of the early days.
One thing that was here, however, was a pub called Puff's, close to where the CVS now stands, said Lowe. He recalled that the establishment provided some respite from the demands of the delivery route. "Rain or shine," he said, the three gathered there "to discuss postal policy."
OTHER REMINISCENCES included the days when the grounds of the present post office were occupied by the Flint Hill School, and a driving range sat nearby, where AT&T is now located, as well as the time when a homeless man who slept by the post office boxes in Oakton's first post office died one night in the lobby.
After leaving the building near Appalachian Outfitters, the Oakton Post Office moved in with the Vienna branch and then spent about 15 years in a warehouse on Pender Drive before the present office was built six years ago, Lowe recalled.
The three veterans have seen the advent of automated sorting machines and standard-issue vehicles, but the biggest change in mail delivery, said Lowe, is that, for better and worse, "there are rules now." This means not only increased oversight but also limits on the demands made on employees.
There was a time, said Rusnak, when, "if you were here until 8 or 9 o'clock, you got no help. Now they'll get you help if you've got a bloody nose or something."
RUSNAK'S PREDICTION that his retirement would induce weeping on the part of his two friends was met with skepticism, but Lundburg conceded that the office camaraderie would be a difficult to leave. "When you work in a place like this, there really are no secrets," he said. "That's something you miss."
Rusnak said he would miss the friendships he has developed with the patrons along his route. "I've made a lot of friends out there," he said. "I've seen their kids grow up and go to college."
The feeling appears to be mutual.
"He is the best postman in America," proclaimed Alma Bonneau of Miller Heights Road. Over 20 years ago, she bought a Christmas tree from a man who told her that his son-in-law was her mail carrier, she said. The next time the mail came, she introduced herself. "He's just a very nice person," she said. "He's an old-time mail carrier. He knows everyone, and he always has a smile."
Bonneau said one way she can tell when someone else is filling in for Rusnak is that packages that would have been brought to the door regardless of the weather get left by the mailbox when it is snowing. "He's worked very hard, and he deserves to retire, but I wish he wouldn't," she said. "That's selfish, isn't it?"
"He's going to retire? That's sad," said Gigi L'Italien, who has lived on Conestoga Court for almost 10 years. "He's been the greatest mailman."
She said she got to know Rusnak because her husband orders a lot of packages for his business. "If I see him coming, I try to run up and meet him so he doesn't have to take the extra steps to the house. And then he'll chat with me for a little bit," she said. "He's congenial." L'Italien also said he was reliable. "All of our neighbors get frustrated when he's not working," she said.
Her son, Nick, described Rusnak as "nice and on-time."
"He's reliable, and he knows the people on his route, and they'll have to look high and low to find someone to fill his job," said Sylvia Bergert, longtime resident of Blue Roan Road. Rusnak, she said, "will wave at you if he sees you a mile from your house," and she added that being on such friendly terms with her mail carrier "gives that nice, neighborhood feel."
BEYOND A COOKOUT on Sunday and a going-away celebration with Lowe and Lundberg at Hooters next week, Rusnak said he does not have grand plans for his retirement at this point.
Lundberg said that when he retires this summer, he plans to "figure out if there's a way to learn how to sleep in late, but I don't know if that's possible."
"I just want to enjoy retirement," said Rusnak. "Eat, drink and be merry."
"You told me you wanted to be Julie," said Lowe. "Now you want to be Mary."