Postal service in Centreville will still go on and continue to function smoothly, but it's largely due to the efforts of clerk Dennis Frye, who's just retired after 34 years of service.
However, replacing him won't be easy.
"It will be impossible to replace him with just one person," said Mark Stephens, acting postmaster of both the Newgate and Sully post offices. "It'll take about half a dozen."
On Saturday evening, May 19, many of Frye's colleagues gathered at Logan's Roadhouse in Fair Lakes to honor him on his retirement. They were sad to see him go.
"I'm losing a friend and a co-worker," said Clifton Postmaster Pat Tolbert. "He's someone you could depend on."
A resident of Burke, Frye, 58, served in the U.S. Marines for three years, worked at a water-treatment plant for Fairfax County for a year and then left for a career with the post office. At that time, he said, the post office offered "more pay and better benefits" than the county did.
He began at the Centreville Post Office in the Newgate Shopping Center in 1973 as a distribution clerk, sorting mail and waiting on customers. He was even acting postmaster for a year, and then returned to being a mail clerk.
But Frye made his mark as the post office's growth coordinator. "I talked to new builders coming to Centreville and set up their boxes," he said. "I also made route adjustments, setting up new routes when old ones got too big."
FRYE SAID being a supervisor was difficult because of the everyday problems and operations concerning the carriers, clerks and budget. What he especially enjoyed was "doing the growth because you're in touch with the people in the community."
And Frye's seen that growth firsthand. In 1973, Centreville's post office had six routes, six mail carriers, two substitute carriers and three clerks. Now the community has two post offices — the one in Sully Station opened in 1998 — with a total of 49 routes, 49 carriers, 23 substitutes and 22 clerks.
The Sully Station location handles the 20120 ZIP code, and Newgate handles 20121. Six or seven years ago, Frye moved to the Sully post office.
"I set up routes and mail deliveries for the new homes and businesses," he said. "For example, all the new high rises in Centreville have centralized delivery inside, and I did that. It's a cost saving for the post office."
Frye said the biggest change in the post office was automation. "Carriers used to sort most of the mail manually, by hand, and now it's automatic," he said. "It comes in according to street addresses and is all ready for the carriers. But they'll put it in order, themselves, to deliver."
Tolbert has known Frye since the early 1980s. "When Centreville lost its postmaster and the clerks were holding the place together, he was the head clerk," said Tolbert. "He and a few other clerks there have been the anchor of that place. If you needed to know something, you talked to Dennis."
MIKE CAVANAUGH, a former supervisor at Newgate, said, "Mr. Frye was Mr. Post Office — he did it all. There's nothing he hasn't done. He's even swept the floors there and taken out the trash."
Jason Lickfeldt, a substitute at the Sully post office, was Frye's driver when Frye did lock changes and other work in the community. "We had some interesting conversations," said Lickfeldt. "I was impressed that he was a Marine in the Vietnam era, and I'm a former Marine, myself. I know that Sully's already hurting for more clerks since he's been gone. It's going to be a big space to fill."
Larry Wilds, a rural carrier in Sequoia Farms, has known Frye for 15 years. "He was a pillar of the post office," said Wilds. "The guy could do every job — and there's a lot of little, intricate jobs people aren't aware of. He was always there and took his job seriously."
Even toward the end of his career, when others might have slacked off, "He still worked just as hard as at the beginning," said Wilds. "And he chose to be productive. I'm happy for him [retiring] and sad for the post office. It's well-deserved; he's seen a lot of changes and weathered a lot of storms, and he was a constant. He'll be sorely missed."
Frye's a pretty quiet, laid-back guy, but Wilds says he deserves every bit of recognition and more. "The community has really benefited from having Dennis in the post office as long as he was," Wilds said. "He was there for the transitions, the changes, the growth and the modernization of the computer age. And Dennis was the controlling factor in absorbing all that growth at the pace at which it took place."
Bob Jones, supervisor of customer service, has served 32 years with the post office and has been at Sully since 1998. "Dennis is totally one of those guys who does everything right," said Jones. "There are no shortcuts. He has integrity and class and is an all-around good guy; everybody likes Dennis. He really cares about the post office and tries to make it better."
Jones said everybody who knows Frye is sad that he's leaving: "It especially bothers me because I worked very closely with Dennis."
DIANE WRIGHT, acting manager of the Sully Station Post Office, said she'll miss Frye terribly. "Every route has a certain size and he keeps up with that," she said. "Now that he's gone, I'll probably have to assume the growth management for that office."
She said Frye also placed all the mail-delivery boxes at townhouses, apartments and condos, all through Centreville so the residents would have central delivery. She called him one of the nicest people she's ever met.
"He's wonderful, and he worked so hard for Centreville," said Wright. "He's one of the most important people in Centreville — he made sure everyone got their mail. He's very dedicated and never called in sick."
Gesturing toward the roomful of people who came Saturday to honor Frye, she said, "He's a really good friend to all these guys. Some of them who were substitutes when he was a supervisor dearly loved him. It's going to take several people to handle his job. We have other great clerks, but Dennis has been a real asset to Centreville."
Parviz Tarakemeh, a rural carrier along Bull Run Post Office Road, called Frye an affable person to work with. "We were together 11 years and, regardless of where you were from or how long you'd been with the post office, he treated everybody equally," said Tarakemeh. "He'd get to know you and treat you like a friend."
Acting Postmaster Mark Stephens has known Frye since 1999 and described him as "a vital element in the Centreville Post Office, and he has been for the whole time I've known him. He's done a phenomenal job with all the growth. He's also a distribution clerk and does quality control to keep things running efficiently. He makes sure we're meeting our delivery standards."
AT THE DINNER, Frye's colleagues presented him with letters of commendation, gift cards, a Redskins clock and a framed, first-day issue envelope postmarked Nov. 14, 1998 — the day the Sully Station Post Office opened.
Frye and his wife Billie live in Burke and have been married 31 years. They have two sons, Jeffrey, 20, and Bryan, 28, and a new grandson born March 22.
Billie works for the Department of Defense in building management and says she's jealous that her husband's retiring, "but it's time for him. I think he'll work part-time, a couple days a week, for the post office. But first, he'll go down to Florida for a couple months to help with our new grandson."
Frye said the real reason he retired is because of recent surgery on an Achilles tendon that will sideline him for nearly a year. But he'll continue as a member of Northern Virginia Football Officials, running the electric clocks for high-school football games in Northern Virginia. He plans to continue being a part-time, growth coordinator for the post office.
Most of all, he said, he'll miss his colleagues and the customers. "It was satisfying — the everyday work, seeing different people and watching Centreville grow over the years," said Frye. "Now that I look back, I wish it was small again."