End of an era

For 124 years, residents of Kurtz have been able to pick up their mail, send off packages and purchase stamps at their own post office.

But that will change come Dec. 31 with the retirement of longtime postmaster Frieda Hillenburg.

The post office has been located in a small addition built onto the former postmaster’s, Hillenburg’s mother-in-law, house on Hendricks Street since the mid 1970s. The location has changed over the years, but the services have not.

“This used to be their carport, and she turned it into the post office,” Hillenburg said of Norma Hillenburg, who took over postal operations in 1960 after Avanelle Summa retired.

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Frieda Hillenburg assumed those duties with the support of her husband, Kenny Hillenburg, on June 3, 1989, after his mother’s death.

“They were going to close the doors, but a lot of people didn’t want to see them do away with our post office, so I agreed to do it,” Frieda Hillenburg said of becoming postmaster.

A few years later, the Kurtz post office became a Contracted Postal Unit by the Postal Service, meaning it provides regular postal services to the public but the location is not owned by the USPS and its employees are not eligible for Postal Service benefits.

Although the location is cramped, it houses a wall of nearly 50 little post office boxes where Hillenburg sorts the mail each morning for her customers.

The mail is delivered by a carrier out of nearby Norman.

Only about 18 of the boxes are currently being used, but that number has fluctuated over the years.

“It changes when residents pass away or move away and new people move in,” she said.

The population in Kurtz is around 100, give or take a few, Kenny Hillenburg said.

What makes the post office boxes unique is that they open with a combination, not a key.

“They are old,” she said. “I don’t know of any other post office that uses them.”

Kurtz resident Hershel Callahan said when he first started using the post office five years ago, it surprised him that he didn’t need a key.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” he said.

Besides the lobby, there’s also a tiny closet-size office where Hillenburg stores supplies and forms she’s required to keep on file for up to seven years.

“There’s not a lot of room, so storage can be a problem,” she said.

Besides sorting the incoming mail and getting outgoing mail ready for pickup, Hillenburg also sells stamps and money orders.

Although she can help customers from behind a window, she prefers to come out of the office to talk.

Picking up a package Friday afternoon, Callahan said he likes the convenience of having local postal services right down

the street.

The closing of the post office is the end of an era in Kurtz, which first opened a post office in 1890.

Residents will not go without access to postal services, however, Frieda Hillenburg said.

After New Year’s Day, home mail delivery will be provided by the Norman Post Office.

“Some people aren’t ready for it to close, because it’s a habit, but it’s not going to be an inconvenience for anyone because they will get their mail delivered to their home,” she said.

The house on Hendricks Street — post office and all — is currently for sale.

Hillenburg said the decision to close was hers alone, and had nothing to do with the U.S. Postal Service’s ongoing budget cuts that have resulted in the closing of other small, rural post offices in Indiana and across the country.

Some post offices, including those in Cortland, Medora, Vallonia and Freetown have reduced their hours due to those cuts.

The job doesn’t take a lot of Hillenburg’s time as she only works a couple of hours each day.

Customers have access to their mailboxes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week. Other services are available for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon.

She also opens for a

couple of hours on

Saturday mornings.

With the post office closing, Hillenburg said she isn’t worried that she’ll be bored during her free hours now. She expects to see more of her great-granddaughter.

“I’m sure I’ll have plenty to keep me busy,” she said.

She said she’s glad she won’t have to go out and make sure the driveway to the post office is clear of snow in the winter.

But she’ll miss getting to regularly see all the people, many of whom are family and neighbors, stopping by to pick up their mail

and talk.

“Being such a small community, it’s like social time when you go to the post office,” she said.