Bob Burgwald worked for a federal bureaucracy, but he says he really worked for you.
Burgwald retired Oct. 30 from the United States Postal Service with 27 years of service. Homewood residents knew him since 1998 as the front counter clerk who believed in customer service.
Burgwald has weighed, stamped and sorted mail. After 9/11, he’d be required to ask customer after customer: “Does this contain anything fragile, liquid or potentially hazardous?” He’d give you information on the best way to ship a package, the quickest way to guarantee delivery of a letter and share the details on insuring that special gift to grandma.
It may have become routine, but Burgwald said he never got bored with his job. There were customers he called his “regulars” who would come in every week or so. He developed what he called a “je ne sais quoi,” or a special rapport, with many of them.
“It’s you guys that I work for. I didn’t work for the post office. I worked for the customers,” he said as friends and long-time customers helped him celebrate his retirement at a party on Sunday.
“I’d be in line watching Bob work, and it’d be a busy season and they’re under the gun. I stood among those people grumbling and no matter what happened he was a nice guy all the way through it,” said Harold Keene. “No matter how nasty people were, Bob would just work his way through it.”
Burgwald says he knows people hate waiting in line, but “there was nothing else I could do. Believe me, it was frustrating.”
Always interested in giving the best customer service, Burgwald said things changed as Congress continued to cut the budget for the postal service.
“Standing eight hours a day didn’t really bother me,” he said. “The thing that really changed the parameter for me was when people would leave and not be replaced. We were just trying to do the same amount of work with fewer people. There were just areas that weren’t being handled like before.
“If the telephone rang, there was no one to answer it, and I wasn’t going to go away from a customer in front of me to deal with a phone behind me. I wouldn’t do it. There seemed to be something of a disconnect from what the post office thought they wanted and what I was able to provide,” he said.
When he started in Homewood, there were three counter clerks working full time. Now on a typical day just two stations are manned. Burgwald isn’t sure if his position will be filled.
The Flossmoor resident said he’d worked in retail for many years, and had been unemployed for a string of months. He took the test for a postal job at the urging of his brother, Burt, who was a letter carrier for 35 years.
“It looked to me from the outside that he was actually having fun, and he was,” Burgwald said thinking of stories his late brother told about interesting people along his route.
Burgwald’s daily routine is changing, but some things on his schedule will continue. He serves on the vestry at St. John Evangelist Church in Flossmoor and he will continue singing with the church’s choir and the Grand Prairie Singers.