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Residents Give Piru Postmaster 1st-Class Send-Off

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Postmaster Jack Woodford has left the town where everybody knows his name, slipping out of Piru on Friday after a day of handshakes, chocolate cake and one last chili verde lunch at Disco Sally’s on Main Street.

By ending his 34-year postal career with a stretch as postmaster in this small-town slice of Americana, the 58-year-old Woodford earned the right to be noticed when he decided it was time to retire.

After all, he had regularly judged the town’s Christmas parade and, in a community without its own newspaper, was counted on to spread the word of the events of the day. On a practical level, he and two part-time aides distributed a stack of mail 12 feet high every day--3,600 pieces.

“This is the best job I ever had,” Woodford said. “Piru is a community like you’ve gone back in time. It’s just like rural America, and you don’t find a lot of that in Southern California.”

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So in his final hours on the job, the friendly postmaster with thick glasses and a toothy smile was honored first by politicians--a congressman, state senator and county supervisor all sent someone with a commendation.

Then there was little Kevin Ponce, a 3-year-old who brought him a coffee cup. And Pauline Ingalls brought in a little bouquet of red, white and blue carnations. Another postal patron deposited cookies for the celebration.

All morning long a stream of residents flowed through Woodford’s tiny, brown cinder-block post office. In a town with no home delivery, all 600 households have post office boxes. And the box holders all seemed to know their postmaster.

“I tell you I like him as well or better than all of the ones in the past,” said Gertrude Bowdle, a Piru resident for 68 years. “He’s carried things out to the car and helped me in other ways.”

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Charles Ponce dropped by the counter to shake his hand. “There are a lot of Ponces in this town,” Woodford explained. “They’ve been here forever.”

Leonard Hutchinson, who works on nearby Newhall Ranch, stuck his straw hat through the door. “There is a genuine cowboy,” Woodford said.

And as the quiet cowboy forked a piece of cake, he offered: “This place has been like going to the barbershop as far as keeping up with the latest about what’s going on around here.”

One after another, the town folk offered their goodbyes.

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“Probably 500 will come by in a day to get their mail, and I talk to at least half of them,” Woodford said.

Piru is so small and comfortable, in fact, that Woodford and its residents are usually known by first name or by titles of description: “Art From the Lake,” a worker at nearby Lake Piru, dropped by Friday to get his mail. And everybody knows “Molly at the Beauty Shop.” On Woodford’s giant goodbye card, one of the signers wrote his name, then explained that he is “Eula’s grandson.”

“They call me ‘Jack at the Post Office,’ ” Woodford said. “Before the earthquake there was a ‘Jack at the Bank,’ but since then the bank’s been closed.” As have nearly all of the businesses in the one-block Piru downtown, except the post office.

“We didn’t miss a day. We didn’t miss a beat,” Woodford said. “We stayed open.”

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That fact impressed some who knew Woodford.

“Jack’s own house was severely damaged,” recalled Jim Neubauer, a driver who delivers mail to post offices throughout the Santa Clara Valley. “But he was here every day. It’s one of those jobs where you just can’t call in sick.”

Woodford’s retirement from his $40,000-a-year position after six years in Piru means that he will no longer have to rise early to snake across the grades of Grimes Canyon Road from his Simi Valley home, arriving for a 7:30 to 5:30 shift.

That day would stretch 10 long hours if Woodford did not shut his door from 1 to 3 p.m. for long lunches over the best Mexican food in town, and sometimes a walk up Piru Canyon.

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“And when I’d see the trout truck go by, I’d run up there to Lake Piru and fish for an hour or so,” he said.

This was a way of life Woodford was not eager to leave. In fact, he would not be retiring if a bad foot had not forced the issue.

“I’ll miss it, but I’ll be back,” Woodford said. “I’m going to come back and visit.”


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