In this 2012 photo, Harmon “Chip” Clemmons holds a cashbook used by t he post office in Blackdom, founded by black settlers in 1901 and abandoned in the 1920s, in the Dexter Post Office. The relic was discovered in DPO’s archives and passed on to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in 2012. (Courtesy photo)
Harmon “Chip” Clemmons started his career with the U.S. Postal Service as a clerk in Casper, Wyo., in 1979.
That was back when automation was taking its first baby steps and postal service employees still had to manually sort mail on a regular basis, sitting on stools and pitching letters into cubby holes.
Clemmons said he has witnessed astounding alterations to the postal service in his 34-year, four-month and 24-day career. He’s seen increased automation of mail sorting and delivery, as well as drastic cuts in staffing.
“I’ve been amazed at the changes I’ve seen,” he said. “There’s so many new things that maybe I’m not even comfortable with.”
Friday, he retired from his role as postmaster at Dexter Post Office after almost 27 years in the position.
Ruth Ann Brown, postmaster at Lake Arthur Post Office and friend of Clemmons, said she hates to see Clemmons retire.
Brown described Clemmons as a mentor and champion of postal service employees. She said he is intelligent, kind, compassionate, dedicated and patient.
“He’s such a good representative of the postal service,” said Brown, who met Clemmons 28 years ago when she began her career with USPS. “He’s just a great guy.”
As postmaster in Dexter, Clemmons oversaw retail and delivery for both Dexter and Hagerman, which was added to the purview of the Dexter office as part of a restructuring of the postal service called the Post Plan.
Lake Arthur will come under the purview of the Dexter office in September.
In addition to his duties for the postal service, Clemmons served as New Mexico president for the National Association of Postmasters of the United States for five and a half years — a title he relinquished Friday due to his retirement.
“He was certainly a valued member of NAPUS and a great postmaster and we certainly will miss him from the postmaster ranks,” said David Ravenelle, who became executive director of NAPUS last month.
Clemmons is also an active leader in the community of Dexter, something he was shy to mention himself, but his wife, Terri Clemmons, was quick to share.
“He doesn’t like to brag on himself,” she said.
She said her husband served on Dexter City Council for 16 years, which included a stint as mayor.
Clemmons now acts as president of the board for the J.O.Y. Center, a senior citizen organization in Roswell, Dexter, Lake Arthur, Midway and Hagerman.
Brown noted that Clemmons has in the past been named postmaster of the year by both NAPUS and the National League of Postmasters.
Clemmons was born in Citra, Flo., where his father worked as a rural carrier for USPS. His family eventually moved to El Paso, and Clemmons spent a brief stint working as a substitute teacher there.
Unhappy with his job in education, he eventually accepted his father’s advice to take the postal exam. He soon landed the job in Wyoming. In the early ’80s, he was transferred to Roswell before assuming his post in Dexter in 1987.
The veteran postal worker said the biggest specific change he has observed in his field is the way mail is processed.
“I miss the old days where we actually got to have face-to-face contact with everybody,” he lamented.
The system is so automated now that chances are, what you receive in your mailbox hasn’t been touched by a human hand until a carrier delivers it, according to Clemmons.
Clemmons doesn’t blame automation for the brunt of staff reductions in the postal service; nor does he blame email or the internet.
He said that while “letters to grandma” have dropped off, businesses’ use of snail mail for advertising and the popularity of online shopping have kept parcel volume high.
He attributes the loss of jobs at USPS to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. The act required USPS to prepay health care benefits for retirees decades in advance.
Clemmons said the annual installments of “somewhere between” $5.5 and $7 million required to meet the obligation forced USPS to shed thousands of jobs.
In 2012, the postal service announced it was eliminating up to 35,000 jobs as part of a consolidation of mail processing centers, according to Reuters.
Clemmons maintains hope for USPS, which he said provides services that are not easily replaced, such as delivery to remote areas.
“I think that the postal service is a very viable service and I think it’s still important to the American public,” he said.
With a career of changes behind him, the 61-year-old said he is “still young enough to do stuff” and plans to look for work in another field — possibly an oil field.
“I’m an outdoor guy,” he said, adding, “I just want something that will keep me busy and pay for the gas to get me there.”