By ELAINE BAKKE
White Salmon Post Office’s new postmaster, James Hamilton, was sworn in by Portland Post Office District officials on Thursday, Aug. 10.
Hamilton takes over for retired postmaster Sue Gross. He comes to the area from the Goldendale Post Office, where he had served for seven years.
“I love this area, there’s lots going on. It’s a great opportunity for me,” Hamilton said of the move.
He noted his biggest challenge will be to continue the “great service to the community” that has been given by prior postmasters. He will also be challenged in keeping up with the growth of the area and the increased mail volume that comes with such growth.
“One of our most immediate changes will be splitting a route that has become too large for one carrier into two routes,” he said. “Customers won’t notice any change, but there will be two different drivers and two different vehicles.”
Another change for the White Salmon Post Office, which customers may not notice, is the way mail is processed and sorted.
“We’re migrating to more parcel sorting. Our parcels are growing 10 to 12 percent annually. We now have close to 200 parcel lockers and it used to be 50,” he said.
Regardless of any changes, Hamilton who has been around the postal industry his whole life, is looking forward to the future. “I’m excited to be here,” he said.
“I literally grew up in and around the post office,” he said. “My mother was a clerk and then postmaster in the small fishing village of Craig on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. My dad was station manager for the seaplane company that flew mail, freight and passengers from Ketchikan out to the island.”
Hamilton remembers the first time his dad trusted him to take the small green Air Mail sack from the float plane dock up to the post office with the day’s First-Class Mail. “My parents taught all five of us kids the value of hard work, loyalty and ‘going the extra mile’.”
The first 20 years of his postal career was spent in Alaska mostly in southeastern Alaska. The highlight of this time was being able to go back to his home town of Craig and serve as the postmaster there for 10 years.
“Most of our mail was flown in on float planes when the weather cooperated. One stormy morning I got a call from the airline agent all in a panic. She had unloaded the mail from the float plane onto a cart and when she turned her back the wind had blown the cart into the bay. I raced around and got a hold of my nephew and we used his skiff to retrieve parcels and sacks floating out of the bay. We were able to account for all but three parcels which must have sunk to the bottom,” he recounted.
Hamilton had promised his wife Gwen that once their three sons were graduated and out of high school the pair would move back to her home state of Washington.
“So, in the spring of 2010 we had the opportunity to move to Goldendale. The seven years in Goldendale were challenging and rewarding in many ways but probably the most memorable events during this time has been the arrival of our 5 grandchildren.”
The most interesting piece of mail that Hamilton has handled was a parcel containing stolen artifacts from a collection in California that was being returned by a person trying to clear their conscience.
The most precious piece of mail he has handled was the day that he received his mother’s ashes in a registered mail parcel.