Wednesday, November 8, 2006

?Pillar? of Ketchum community retires

Postal Service employee puts final stamp on 27-year career

Express Staff Writer

Bob Portillo, second from right, puts in a last day of work Friday at the Ketchum Post Office. The 27-year U.S. Postal Service veteran retired last week after working at the Ketchum and Bellevue post offices. Co-workers, from left, are Valerie King, Peter Caldara, Charlie Wilson and Greg Eslinger Photo by David N. Seelig

The holidays for most people mean packages, letters and greetings from afar.

Like most U.S. Postal Service employees, Bob Portillo spends the holiday season buried under those tidings of great joy.

Christmas 2006, however, will be the first in 27 years that he will be able to step back from the holiday rush and enjoy it at his own pace.

After nearly three decades as a U.S. Postal Service worker, Portillo retired Friday, Nov. 3.

"This year there won't be the pressure and time constraints," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Relaxing during the Christmas season with family is the only scheduled item he has.

"I'll be around; I just won't be here," he said. "My plan is to have no plan."

Besides spending time with grandkids, Portillo might fit in "a little fishing, a little golfing," he said. "I'll try to do the typical retirement. Maybe a little traveling next spring when the weather's a little better."

The men's bowling league in Bellevue and St. Charles Catholic Church in Hailey will also be beneficiaries of his extra free time.

"I'm happy I'm able to retire at a reasonably young age, with the prospect of a few years (of activity)," he said. "I know there's a lot of people unable to do that."

Portillo, 60, was hired in 1979 at the Bellevue Post Office after an uncle, who was postmaster in Sandy, Utah, convinced him to try the occupation.

"He recommended it," Portillo said. "It seemed like a good way to support a family. Suddenly I found out it was a pretty good deal, and here I am 30 years later."

He transferred to the Ketchum Post Office in 1981.

"This is a busy office," he said. "This time of year we work 45 hours a week. Christmas, it's 60-plus, sometimes seven days a week all the way through New Year's."

He leaves the job as a lead window clerk, a position that allowed him to become an integral part of residents' days.

Ketchum resident Nancy Burke was making her daily trip to the post office Friday.

She, like nearly everyone who saw Portillo, congratulated him on his retirement but expressed sadness over his departure.

"I feel like a big pillar of our community is going (away)," she said. "It kind of makes me sad. He had a wonderful personality and was very quiet."

Ketchum Postmaster John McDonald counts Portillo's mellowness as one of many personality traits that served the post office well over the years.

"His dedication, smile, pleasant personality, even in adverse circumstances," he said. "Any time you're in public service, not all of your contacts are pleasant. Bob always turns things around. He's a master in dealing with the public."

That skill has been passed along to other postal service employees: Portillo was an on-the-job instructor for southern Idaho—a job that involves sorting and boxing mail, keeping the store stocked with inventory and, of course, attending to customers' needs.

McDonald said Portillo always put those needs above his own.

"One of the good things is when Bob comes to work, he seems to leave any personal problems he may have at home and dedicates himself to the United States Postal Service," McDonald said.

"With his co-workers, a general consensus is that Bob is one of those people that everybody gets along with," McDonald said. "Bob doesn't show controversy."

For his part, Portillo said that keeping a positive attitude, even in trying circumstances, is a learned reaction.

"When I first started, I was pretty green at it," he said. "It's an acquired skill."

While Portillo thinks he grew into his job, McDonald saw his potential right away.

"When we interview people, it's judgment calls and they do go through a probationary period," McDonald said. "Obviously, Bob was a very good choice."

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