By Tony Hooker
Gregory Ledbetter came into his career with the USPS almost by accident. Now, he has risen through the ranks to become the postmaster at Villa Grove. He recently took time from his busy day to tell me about how all that came to be.
Mr. Ledbetter, where did you grow up?
You’re sitting there in English class at Sullivan High School, thinking someday I’m going to be the postmaster at Villa Grove, right? Is that how that worked?
How did it come to be?
I had worked at Donnelly’s in Mattoon and things were looking like that company wasn’t going to be around much longer. So, I took the postal exam and I got excepted and I started out as a window clerk in Charleston. I worked there for 11 years before I became a supervisor in Sullivan, my hometown, for a couple of years and then I came from there to here.
I would imagine that not a lot of people understand how promotions work in the post office. Is there a logical career progression?
You start out as either a clerk or a carrier and then you move into a supervisory position. After that, you can go on to become a postmaster at a smaller office like Villa Grove and then work your way into a bigger office like Champaign or Charleston.
What sort of attributes does it take to be A., a good clerk or carrier, and B., a good postmaster?
You have to be able to be good the public as a clerk, and also as a postmaster, as you’re selling stamps and everything on a day-to-day basis. You have people who are upset because they didn’t get their mail or their paper on a particular day and you have to have good customer service. It all boils down to being customer-minded, delivering mail in a timely fashion and make sure we keep track of it and get it delivered safely.
What are the main duties of a postmaster?
Mainly we just make sure the office runs smoothly. We make sure that we have it staffed properly. In case someone is ill, we make sure we have backups. We make sure we have plenty of stamp stock on hand. We oversee the everyday administration of the office.
So many industries are having trouble finding staff. Is that the case with the post office?
Oh, yes. We have a banner hanging on the wall! We’re hiring. We have a rural carrier position and a couple of clerk positions that are available, right here in Villa Grove. The post office as a whole is very shorthanded.
It seems like it would be a good job, with good pay and benefits. You get government benefits, right?
Right. Unfortunately, you have to start in a part-time role and the benefits aren’t quite as good as when you move into a career role. You’re still compensated well, and it’s a good job, but it’s not like when I was hired 15 years ago, and you could start as a career employee.
Is there any sort of training that someone who aspires to move into management or become a postmaster must undergo?
When you become a supervisor, you go to about a month of training, teaching you how to do the bookwork, how to deal with employees and the public. Once you become a postmaster, there’s more training on the specific duties of the role.
This might be a strange question, but have you ever had to deal with a suspicious package in the mail?
Oh, yes! <smiles> Not particularly here, but in Charleston, we used to have people send illicit contraband through the mail.
How long have you been on the job at Villa Grove?
I’ve been in Villa Grove for about a year.
What’s been the biggest surprise about your time here?
Everyone has been so nice. Villa Grove is a nice community, and everyone has been friendly. The people working here are great, and I really like it here. It’s a good office and I’m very happy.
What’s the future looking like for you?
I’m just planning on being here for a while. I really like it and I’m happy and content, so unless some fantastic offer comes along, I plan on being here.
Last question. Do you have to recite the postal service motto every day when you’re postmaster?