Postal Updates

Kansas mailman named Mailman is a bona fide hero

Sep 28, 2023, 7 AM
Kyle Mailman’s last name is a perfect match to his job as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service in Wichita, Kan. In late July, Mailman was commended by the USPS for detecting a natural gas leak at a customer’s residence along his route.

Delivering the Mail by Allen Abel

A letter carrier whose name is Mailman sounds like a gag from vaudeville days, like a dentist called I. Yankem or the legal firm of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe.

Clearly, if everyone chose a career to match his name, Luke Combs would be a hairdresser and Bruno Mars an astronaut.

But Kyle L. Mailman of Wichita, Kan., really is a mailman. He also is a bona fide, real-life hero.

To put Mailman’s story in context, some background is needed.

In 1905, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a law advocating the compulsory and thorough extermination of the plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius). That mandate proved unsuccessful, and the fat-cheeked rodent has continued its depredations of crops and lawns throughout the Sunflower State ever since.

Recently, when pilings were driven in Wichita for the construction of a new bridge across the Arkansas River, a multitude of gophers were displaced from their subterranean domiciles.

Some of them migrated to a neighborhood called Indian Hills, where Mailman, after a pressure-packed 20 years in management in the automotive and heavy-equipment industries, had taken a much more satisfying position delivering the daily mail.

Indian Hills, he found, was infested with the furry pests that, according to the K-State Research and Extension Office, can tunnel as far as 600 feet and kick up one to three unsightly mounds of soil a day.

In Wichita, when underground gas lines interrupted the gophers’ architectural proclivities, they simply chewed through the pipes.

Mailman arrived at one home earlier this summer and detected a strong odor of natural gas as soon as he pushed some letters through the front door slot.

“They always went in and out through the garage and never used the front door so they never smelled it,” Mailman told Linn’s Stamp News in a telephone interview.

When he rang the doorbell, the woman of the house responded.

“I could tell immediately from how she spoke that she had natural gas poisoning,” Mailman recalled. “I knew the symptoms because I had natural gas poisoning 18 years ago from a pilot light that went out.”

“When we called the gas company, they found another leak inside their house,” Mailman said. “They had a gas fireplace and the valve wasn’t closing completely when they shut it off.”

“Thanks to Mr. Mailman,” reads the headline of a July 24 story on the United States Postal Service’s Link website.

Jibes about his last name have been part of Mailman’s life since he was born in 1984.

“It starts when you’re a kid and it never stops,” he said. “Everybody asks, ‘Well, what do you do for a living?’ For the longest time it was, ‘Not that.’ But now it’s ‘Yep, that’s what I do for a living.’ ”

Mailman’s brother works in a USPS sorting plant, “But that’s not the same thing,” he asserted.

According to Mailman, leaving a steady job in the automotive field was “a huge gamble.”

“Could I handle it physically?” he recalled. “I knew that most walking routes were about 10 miles so I asked myself, ‘Can I do 10 miles in this heat in six and a half hours? And can I do that six or seven or 10 days in a row?’ ”

He could, and becoming a letter carrier was everything he wanted it to be.

There was no boss looking over his shoulder, and there were satisfying personal interactions with the residents along his route. On his very first day as a regular, he revived an older gentleman who had tripped and knocked himself unconscious.

There was “a little more left of me at the end of the day,” he said. “I’m like a whole different person.”

According to some social scientists, Mailman’s decision to become a mailman was predictable.

Twenty years ago, a study by Brett W. Pelham and his colleagues at the State University of New York at Buffalo observed that, “Because most people possess positive associations about themselves, most people prefer things that are connected to the self (e.g., the letters in one’s name).”

The study’s findings included the fact that “people named Louis are disproportionately likely to live in St. Louis,” and that “people disproportionately choose careers whose labels resemble their names (e.g., people named Dennis or Denise are over-represented among dentists.)”

For Mailman, being a mailman is working out well, even through what some scientists call the hottest summer on record.

“Some days it’s pretty miserable,” Mailman said, “but you know what? It was fine. It went just fine.”

“I actually look forward to going to work,” he said.

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