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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, May 11, 2022 1 week ago

FINAL DELIVERY: Tim Rice hangs up mail bag after 34 years

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Tim Rice is saying goodbye to the U.S. Postal Service following a career that spanned more than three decades and gave him the chance to deliver to his own home, all of his neighbors and the hospital in which he was born.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

There are certain addresses that will always stick in Tim Rice’s memory as a 34-year mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.

Mrs. Kannon lived at 505 N. Boyd St. in Winter Garden and kept a barbecue grill next to her mailbox. Every day, Rice opened the mailbox to deliver her mail and then opened the grill lid to find a 32-ounce glass of ice water waiting for him.

Over on Florida Avenue, another resident watched for him to walk up the street and then went outside to greet him with a glass of cold water. And he knew when he walked into Shirley’s Antiques on West Colonial Drive, a small chest filled with inexpensively priced refreshing sodas awaited him.

Rice has seen many changes in his more than three decades as the postal carrier for both rural and city routes. When he took the position in 1988, the city had six regular routes, one auxiliary route and two rural routes — and this included two walking routes roughly 12 miles each. When Rice, 62, retired Friday, May 6, the city counted 12 city routes and nearly 35 rural routes.

Those two walking routes were divided into north and south. Rice took care of City Route 3, the north side, and he could walk it in four hours and 45 minutes.

“My wife used to tell me I walked like my butt was on fire,” he said. “You get your route done earlier that way.”

One good thing about his route was his own house was on it, so Rice stopped there each day to have lunch with Sandy, his wife of 37 years.

 

SPECIAL DELIVERY

When Rice was a preteen, he worked with his father, Al Rice, at his Winter Garden Sign Company on South Main Street. The father-son duo clocked out at lunchtime every workday and headed over to the Winter Garden Lanes bowling alley, where they ate their noon meal with two Winter Garden mail carriers, Bill Richards and Lloyd Thornton. Rice loved hearing post office stories from the pair, and it created a desire to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Years later, when Rice turned 28, the two men became his coworkers.

Tim Rice, likely home after delivering the day’s mail, and Chad taught Miranda how to ride a bike in 1992.

He worked at the downtown Winter Garden Post Office for close to 15 years before shifting to the main office after it was built on West Colonial Drive.

Rice’s earlier route covered doctors’ offices, including his own doctor, Charles Carter, as well as West Orange Memorial Hospital, where he was born.

In the beginning of his career, Rice delivered mostly bills, letters and magazines.

“One of the ones you don’t forget are the ones that receive large sums of mail volume,” he said. “Some people would get four or five letters, and there are others who would get magazines and a stack of letters and you would have to put a rubber band around them.

“We now receive packages,” he said. “(Residents) get on their phone or iPad, and the mailman delivers it to your door. … I didn’t mind. That’s how the job evolved.”

On his final day, he snapped a photo of the back of his mail truck — and it contained more packages than letters.

The walking routes were eliminated when the city started a campaign to encourage all residents to place their mailboxes curbside to speed up mail delivery by truck.

As the city grew, Rice’s mail route changed and he delivered from one of the mail trucks. The Garden Heights and Teacup Springs neighborhoods were added, as was his own subdivision, Crown Point Springs — and eventually he delivered to the newer subdivisions to the north: Fullers Landing, Tuscany and McAllister Landing.

Customers became friends, and Rice enjoyed that aspect of his job. He placed good news in mailboxes; cards to celebrate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries; and birth announcements and college-acceptance letters. But he delivered more than that. He said during the pandemic he saw more people at home and got to know more of the residents on his route. When he saw a man trying to get his lawnmower to work, Rice told him he had an extra one at home and took it to him.

Tim Rice frequently was photo-graphed while wearing his United States Postal Service uniform.

“People that knew me, they would donate those things to me, and I could give to people — bikes, lawnmowers, ceiling fans,” he said. “And it was helping people. I saw kids out there with no bicycles, and people would give me bikes and I’d delivered them to their parents.”

He made friends with the neighborhood children too, and many of them waited for him to hand them their family’s mail.

“They called me Rubber Band Man,” he said. “If I didn’t have mail for them, I would give them a rubber band. You didn’t want to disappoint them. I watched them from 2, 3 years of age, and I watched them grow up and graduate and get married and have kids.”

Rice still can recall names and addresses of people he delivered to over the years.

For some residents, Rice has been their only mail carrier.

Just last week, a few days before his retirement, a couple stopped him and asked how much longer he planned to deliver mail.

“We’ve been here 30 years, and you’ve been the only mailman,” they told him.

 

FINAL DELIVERY

Rice decided it was time to retire when the heat from the Florida sun became unbearable. Telling all of his customers was difficult, physically and emotionally.

“I didn’t know how to say goodbye to everyone; I was trying to say goodbye as I saw them,” he said. “When I posted (my message) on NextDoor, I got like 600 messages.”

Rice’s last day was Friday, April 29. The postal crew — including all the bosses and the city and rural carriers — gathered at the main post office for a big spread of food and desserts and to say their own goodbyes.

His retirement plans include flying on an airplane and riding on a boat — two things he has never done — so he and his wife can see the whales and glaciers of Alaska. One of the people on his route just moved here from Alaska, so the two have been talking about what to see and do.

The Rices have three young grandsons who live within 15 minutes of them.

“They’re with me all the time,” he said. “Almost every day, and that’s what keeps me going.  … Now that I’m retired, I can get them back out there and back in their activities.”

He also expects to stay in touch with his coworkers and the friends along his route.

“The people I work with, they’ve said, ‘You could be a historian,’” Rice said. “I remember way back. I tell them all these stories about what used to be here in Winter Garden. Some of them, they weren’t even born yet when I started my career.”

On Tim Rice’s last day of work, he snapped a photo of his mail truck, which had more packages than letters.

 

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Amy Quesinberry is the community editor of the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She was born and raised in Winter Garden, grew up reading the community newspaper and has been employed there as a writer, photographer and editor since 1990....

See All Articles by Amy

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