Bert Lucas can be spotted handing out suckers to children on his route.
By Denise Lana,
Locally-known postal worker Bert Lucas has worn a variety of hats throughout his adult life, but none are more recognized than “Bert the Mailman.”
The year was 1995. On the back side of his 30s, Lucas, on a whim, applied for a job with the United States Postal Service after seeing an employment ad in the local paper. Lucas was christened a moniker that would stick with him for the next three decades… residents and businesses in Decorah know him simply as “Bert the Mailman.”
Those outside of Decorah might know him under other names and in various capacities, as the mailman held numerous positions before USPS. In his youth, Lucas joined the Army after dropping out of high school and getting his GED, but a medical issue brought his military enlistment to a quick end and he returned to his hometown of Cresco. He managed several convenience stores before purchasing the local redemption center, and 12 years later grew restless and sold the center.
Now, clad in the classic USPS blue postal shorts uniform and carrying an armful of letters and packages, Lucas is the friendly face and tanned lanky frame that can be spotted all over town. With an almost constant barrage of honking horns, waves and greetings shouted from windows and vehicles, Lucas is akin to a friendly celebrity everyone looks forward to seeing each day.
“I’ve had so many people shout at me, a lot of them I didn’t even know!” Lucas laughed. “Every once in a while, a cop would blow a siren at me!”
Bert’s extended family
Over the years, Lucas has seen 109-degree days and -27-degree mornings. According to his calculations, he has walked more than 70,000 miles – 160,312,000 steps – throughout his postal career. True to the unofficial USPS motto, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds,” Lucas has been dependable and steadfast, being sent home from work only one day that he can recall – just short of being sick.
“It was back in 2008 when that terrible flood hit,” he explained. “The water was up to the edge of the dike and the city evacuated everyone north of Water Street, and that included the post office.”
Having traversed the same dedicated mail route in Decorah for 25 years, Lucas shared that he has come to consider many of the familiar townsfolk his extended family.
On two different occasions in 2007, Bert’s close relationships with his residents proved lifesaving. During his route one late summer day, he noticed an older person on his route who waited daily for his arrival, was absent from her post. Noticing she had not picked up the previous day’s delivery, Bert grew concerned, and after contacting her granddaughter, it was discovered that she had fallen, cracking several vertebrae, and was stranded inside her home.
Just three weeks later, Bert’s keen observations paid off when he noticed another resident had not collected his mail from the day before. The man’s landlord was contacted by Bert, and upon entering his home, the landlord found him incapacitated from an illness. After receiving emergent care, he recovered, and his doctors attributed Bert with saving his life, as it was discovered the man was hours from death due to failing kidneys.
When asked what he has loved about his career, his eyes lit up and he answered with an immediate “the kids.”
“I know everyone’s kids like they are my own!” he proudly decreed, his tanned face stretched in a wide smile. “After work, I love taking kids to get ice cream or pizza. There are kids I used to give suckers when I would see them. Now, those kids are parents and I give suckers to their kids!”
He attributed much of his affection for the kids to his daughter Ashley, who was murdered when she was eight years old in 2001. “My worst year for sure was in 2001,” Lucas shared. “I lost my daughter. But after Ashley passed, I made a promise to her that I would always make kids smile.”
Lucas, who never married or had any other children, stayed true to that promise. Each year, he gave scholarships in Ashley’s honor to members of her class, up until the year they graduated high school. He also devoted himself each year to buying Christmas presents for various children along his mail route. His face, almost permanently etched in a smile, glows as he recalls how he picked out gifts he thought each child would like, and how much fun it was wrapping and personalizing each gift before loading up his truck for his Christmas Eve delivery.
“The best times I have ever had is when I am handing out those presents!” he gushed as he flips through pictures on his cell phone, an assortment of smiling littles holding festively wrapped presents. Occasionally Lucas, wearing a red and white Santa hat, can be seen alongside in the pictures, but he insisted he prefers the attention be on the children’s happy faces. To date, he estimated he has handed out more than 500 gifts, all in honor of his daughter, Ashley.
“I’ve done it so long, I have kids now who see me and ask, ‘Are you gonna bring presents this year?’” Lucas chuckled, adding, “I might not do the Christmas presents anymore after I retire, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something else I can do!”
Hanging up the mailbag
The year is now 2023. Bert the Mailman has turned 65, and although he claimed he doesn’t mentally “feel” his age, his body is singing a different tune.
“I’ve been doing this job for 28 and a half years, and even though it doesn’t seem like it has been that long, my knees can vouch for it!” Lucas exclaimed, again with his familiar cheerful chuckle. “Walking 11 miles a day has really taken a toll on me and I just can’t do it anymore.”
Come this Saturday, Lucas will, for his very last time, wake in the darkness of early morning, suit up in his USPS blue and deliver mail. After handing out the last letter and passing out the remainder of packages, when he clocks out at 3 p.m., Bert the Mailman will officially hang up his mail bag and retire as mail carrier.
When asked what is next on his agenda, Lucas smiled and shrugged. “I am gonna rest my body for a bit,” said Lucas, adding that he wants to relax through the winter before looking for a new venture in the spring. A self-declared homebody, he expressed that he will love having more time to spend on his hobbies. “I love jigsaw puzzles! I have a hundred of them!” giggled Lucas with a childlike joy. “My 89-year-old mom, Rose, and I are bingo buddies! I take her to bingo in New Hampton every Thursday night!”
Although he is looking forward to some well-earned downtime to rest his knees and work on puzzles, Lucas does want to make sure everyone knows he isn’t going to disappear from his extended family in Decorah.
“I’m certainly gonna miss the customers and my co-workers, and especially the kids,” Lucas said, assuredly, “but I promise, I am gonna be over here in town a lot, visiting the kids and taking them for ice cream and pizza!”
Celebrate with a slice
And with pizza in mind, Lucas will celebrate his retirement Saturday, Sept. 16, at 3 p.m. at Mabe’s Pizza in Decorah.
In true Bert the Mailman fashion, he is working right up to the last minute. “I finish my last shift around 3 p.m. and then I am headed over to Mabe’s for some pizza! Everybody can come! I will buy 25 or 30 pizzas if I have to! But I do have to make sure the kids get slices of pizza, that’s what’s important.”
Bert Lucas can be spotted handing out suckers to children on his route.
Bert Lucas will celebrate his retirement Saturday, Sept. 16, at 3 p.m. at Mabe’s Pizza in Decorah.