With wicked weather — and the barrage of holiday cards and gifts — right around the corner, thoughts turn to those intrepid postal carriers who brave the snow, the rain, the heat and the gloom of night to deliver our mail. In fact, according to several local residents, nothing sways these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
While postal carriers know a lot about their customers (maybe too much…), residents don’t often know much about their carriers.
So as letter- and package-season heats up, Wednesday Journal profiles several local carriers recommended by grateful customers.
Mario Banks, Sr. has been an Oak Park postal carrier for a year and a half, but has already made an impact on several of the residents living around Hatch School.
Banks enjoys connecting with kids. If he is ahead in his route, he’ll take the time to talk with them and hang with them. Banks has been married for 23 years and has two children of his own.
“One day I decided to join some kids in a game of baseball — to prove to them I still had it. We wagered a popsicle. I really enjoyed that lime popsicle…” he said.
Banks also said he enjoys the camaraderie of his coworkers, especially during the first couple hours of his shift, and tries to be a positive influence by spreading his cheerfulness and enthusiasm.
“The DNA of this occupation — serving people — more than makes up for the daily challenges. I made up my mind long ago that I wasn’t going to let any negative situations rob me of what God is building in my character. So, I try to show people genuine compassion and kindness. It tends to brighten their day,” Banks said.
And his customers return the kindness — often giving him bottles of water in the summer or leaving water in coolers on their porches. One resident even chased him down the street, barefooted, to give him some cold sparkling water.
He is an active member of Chicago Church of Christ Metro Ministry, which meets at United Lutheran Church, located on his route.
Keith Scott has been a postal worker for almost 29 years. He grew up on Chicago’s west side and enlisted in the Army reserves after graduating from Westinghouse High School. He worked at Spiegel, Inc., famous for its catalogs, until the company relocated to Ohio.
Scott joined the postal service to support his family and has come to appreciate the job because of its stability, benefits and opportunity to connect with people, including the kids on his route, many of whom he has seen grow up from kindergarten to college. He considers the free exercise a welcome bonus.
Like many postal carriers, he’s had run-ins with dogs — but his worst injury was a broken toe, incurred when he slipped on a porch step. The incident happened early in his shift, but he completed his route, then had to stay off his foot for six weeks.
Without a doubt, Scott’s favorite activity is spending time with his seven grandchildren — skating, going to the trampoline park and watching animated movies.
Marzena Karkut knew she wanted to be a postal worker since she was 6. She immigrated from Poland with her parents and younger brother in 1990, just as communism was loosening its grip on her home country. She has fond memories of the farm she grew up on.
“We didn’t have door-to-door mail delivery every day because the farms were far apart and separated by hills and forests. Most of the people got their mail once a week at the village grocery store. I remember the mail lady was very popular. She knew everyone, and everyone was happy to see her. It was very exciting to me,” Karkut said.
Her family settled in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago.
Karkut has been a postal worker for more than 20 years and loves the job—although the beginning was rocky. She started in winter and her hands were so cold that she got paper cuts. She claims she spent many days crying, but her coworkers, including Keith Scott, promised her it would get better.
“I’m so glad I stuck it out — because I love it now,” Karkut said.
Karkut did have an alarming experience a couple of weeks ago after a resident’s adult son physically threatened her because of her accent. But when her customers found out about the incident, they rallied around her.
“It made me feel so happy to feel that love,” she said.
Jim Bruno has been a postal carrier since 1982. Originally from Maywood — like his famous fellow carrier/musician John Prine — Bruno went to Proviso East High School before his family moved to the northwest side of Chicago. Instead of attending college, he pursued his interest in music, playing in several bands while working in the mailrooms of businesses in the city. Eventually, he decided that while being in the entertainment business was fun, it didn’t offer the stability or salary he desired.
“I thought the postal service would be an easy job what’s hard about putting mail in a box, right? I thought being outside talking to the squirrels and the birds would be peachy keen. I soon realized that it was the toughest job I’d ever done,” Bruno said.
Bruno once was seriously injured by a territorial dog. But an attack cat was even more disturbing.
“This cat was lying in wait for me, hiding under a car in the resident’s driveway. When I approached the house, he ran out and scratched up my leg and then hissed at me from the mailbox,” Bruno said.
In his spare time, Bruno enjoys enhancing his home with vintage furnishings and listening to an eclectic variety of music.
Al Robles has a coveted business route in the Hemingway District. He has been a postal worker since 1991. Oak Park was his last choice for assignment, after a mail mishap ironically took him out of the running for Maywood.
“I was scheduled for an interview with the Maywood post office, but I got the notification letter the day after I was supposed to show up — it was late because it had been forwarded from my former address,” he said.
Robles first worked out of south Oak Park. As vice president of Local Branch 608 and head steward at the main office on Lake Steet, he said he strives to recreate the camaraderie among coworkers, with barbecues and get-togethers at carriers’ homes.
Although he enjoys the relative freedom of his job, Robles said he regrets that the nature of the occupation has changed over the years, from a service model to a business model — with carriers expected to work faster and for longer hours.
When he was raising his children, his job usually ended by 3:30 p.m., which allowed him to be involved in their extracurricular activities, including coaching his son’s championship-winning basketball team at St. Frances of Rome in Cicero.
Robles recalled an incident that changed the way he deals with postal carriers’ worst nightmare.
“I really love animals — but one day, a really aggressive dog charged me, so I had to spray him. I felt so bad for hurting him! After that, I threw away the spray and packed dog biscuits instead. I decided that dogs weren’t going to be my enemies, but my friends. The dogs know I’m coming now,” he said, laughing.
Outside work, Robles enjoys the peacefulness of fishing and is a devoted collector of vintage stereo systems.