James Balluff was the last of his kind.
Balluff retired this month after an almost 53-year career delivering mail — which he spent entirely at the Elmhurst, IL, Post Office.
He was the office’s last employee to have the title “special delivery messenger.” The title was given to individuals who were hired for Special Delivery mail, an expedited service that was discontinued in 1997.
Nationwide, about 100 employees have special delivery messenger job titles.
“I once had to deliver a box of flowers in a poor section of town,” Balluff recalled. “A woman answered the door. She got all excited and was bouncing around like a kid. I thought, man, this job is great.”
Balluff began his career in February 1965, when the hourly rate was $3.07.
Seven months later, he was drafted to fight in Vietnam, where he was seriously injured during an artillery strike soon after his Army tour began.
“My leg was bleeding,” he said. “It wasn’t critical. I got a little gangrene. They had to cut out part of my calf muscle.”
Balluff was later stationed in Saigon and then Hawaii before returning to the Elmhurst Post Office, where he worked with 17 Postmasters and 67 supervisors during the course of his career.
Post Office Operations Manager Gregory Harris said Balluff was “an esteemed member of our postal family and … an historical figure.”
The 73-year-old Balluff, who has survived a heart attack and other ailments, and his wife Susan had a deal to retire together so they can spend more time with their two daughters and seven grandchildren.
Susan concluded her career at a spinal research institution in December, but Balluff decided to hold on until January.
“My favorite time at the Post Office is always Christmas. We’re busy, listening to Christmas carols and everyone’s in a good mood. So I figured I’d leave after that,” he said.
He paused for moment, then said: “But I kind of miss it.”