New postmaster's dreams of Alaska are delivered

Posted: Monday, March 22, 2004

FAIRBANKS - Keith Coleman has come a long way from walking door-to-door delivering mail along his roughly seven-mile route in Kansas City, Mo.

After 25 years of working his way through the U.S. Postal Service ranks, Coleman left the town in which he was born and raised and headed to Fairbanks to take the town's highest Postal Service position this month.

When he started working for the Postal Service, he had no idea his "very humble beginnings" would turn into a career that would eventually lead him to Alaska.

Coleman didn't just come to Alaska for the job, but also for the scenery and the lifestyle - much different from the hustle and bustle of city life.

"It was just the smell and the feel of the place," Coleman said. "I'm blessed. This is a dream job, I think."

It's still too new for him to be able to gauge the challenges of stepping into the job of managing 189 employees in six post offices and the mail coming in and out of some 50 northern Bush villages.

He replaces Ray Clark, who retired after seven years as postmaster.

Coleman moved from Kansas City, an urban area with about 440,000 people, to Fairbanks, a town of about 32,000.

It took him six weeks to decide he wanted to retire in Alaska. He was working temporarily in Wasilla last July and August.

"I just fell in love with the place and thought I'd come back if I had the opportunity," he said.

He would have taken any managerial position in some of the larger towns in Alaska and applied for the postmaster position in Fairbanks.

"All I wanted to do is put my foot in the door," he said.

When he came up to interview for the job in Fairbanks in January, he stepped off the airplane and into 25-below-zero temperatures that took his breath away.

"You really don't know how magnificent and beautiful it is up here. It's just fresh and clean," he said. "I can't believe I'm in Alaska. This is the place that people dream about."

His enthusiasm is catching, even for Debra Cornelius, the supervisor of customer service who's been with the Postal Service for 24 years.

She grew up in Fairbanks and has taken some of it for granted.

"He's helped me to see Fairbanks again through new eyes," Cornelius said. "We keep teasing him, telling him, 'You're not in Kansas anymore."'

But Coleman is not going to be clicking the heels of ruby slippers anytime soon.

"I plan to retire here," he said, which he can do in six years.

After spending three years in the Army, Coleman originally took a job as a mail carrier with the goal of saving up money to go to school to become an engineer. After five years in the position, he got his first promotion and stayed, working his way up through the ranks.

He didn't give up on a dream of going to school and attended night classes while working. He got an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in business administration.

While he's a bit leery of Fairbanks' extreme temperatures, he's more apprehensive about the long, dark days of winter. By that time, his wife, who's locked into a teaching contract until June, will have joined him. Meanwhile, he's made a list of things to do to keep him busy.

Flipping out a pocket-size notebook - Coleman writes down everything - he read from a short list of personal goals he wants to accomplish here: learn to play the saxophone, get a real estate license and get back into weight lifting.

But mostly, he's looking forward to going halibut and fly fishing.

"I can't wait to go fishing," he said.

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