Dave McAlister has done every possible job in his 15 years with the Postal Service. He started as part-time Christmas help (that doesn’t count toward his 15-year total), working his way through the ranks as a mail processor, carrier, clerk and postmaster.
“Once a letter is dropped off, I can take you through the whole path it takes,” McAlister said. “I’ve done it all.”
His varied career with the post office spans numerous cities in the Pacific Northwest, but McAlister, his wife, Brenda, their children and his mother now live in Pine Grove. He is the new Odell Post Office postmaster — if by “new” you mean “has only been there a year.” He was appointed to the post after longtime Postmaster John Smith retired in 2012.
The Odell community has been supportive of the change.
“Of course they miss John because he was here forever,” said McAlister. “I can’t replace John because he’s his own person and he’s very loved. But most of them seem to accept me.”
Once you’re hired at the post office, he said, you can continue working anywhere in the United States and its territories. He had previously served as postmaster in Grass Valley, southeast of The Dalles, one of the rural sites to have its operation hours cut — to four hours a day — during recent restructuring. Because he wanted to work full-time and keep his benefits, McAlister decided to look for a new position.
Three people, including McAlister, applied for the postmaster position in Odell, but he was the only one to visit the office. He applied for seven positions in all, visiting each and every site in a two-day period.
“It was important to me,” he explained. “If I had to travel to Oklahoma to keep a job, I’d do it.”
While McAlister hadn’t previously spent much time in Odell, he wasn’t a stranger to the valley. He lived in Tygh Valley until he was 4 years old and had also been through Hood River several times to visit Mount Hood after the family relocated to the Tri Cities. That’s where he graduated from high school and started his career with the post office.
“I like the location (of the Odell Post Office),” he said. “I like that you’ve got Mount Hood right there, and I can walk just a half a block and see Mount Adams. I like all of the outdoor activities the area has to offer — hiking, mountain biking, skiing.”
McAlister has seen all manner of things come through in his years with the post office, including raw coconuts, tires, skis, live birds, and mealworms. If it’s packaged correctly, it can be shipped, he said. Of course, there are rules that must be followed — that’s why before mailing a package, a clerk will ask a series of questions to determine if it’s a hazard.
“That’s all due to the current climate,” McAlister explained. “But we’re trying to be more versatile.”
One way the post office is becoming more versatile is through its package delivery system. Starting July 28, all post offices will offer Priority Mail Express, where customers will be able to choose a specific delivery date.
In Odell, McAlister is excited that, within the next two weeks, the post office will be able to offer “Sure Money,” where money can be wired to Latin American countries within 15 minutes. The Hood River site already offers this service, and McAlister, a Sure Money coordinator, is hoping to get more sites signed on as well.
If the program goes national, he said, other countries could be added.
“If this program can get kicked off, there’s a lot of potential on where it could go,” he said.
Customers especially like the flat-rate boxes the post office offers.
“You can mail a 10-pound package to the east coast for $12.50 if it fits in the box,” he said. “You’d pay $40 or more to send it priority.” Lately, people have even been able to ship 12-20 pounds in that box. “It’s a good resource people are finding out about and using,” he said.
The Odell Post Office — a Level 18 — is a busy one, he said. “There were 172 people in Grass Valley, so it wasn’t real busy,” he said. “This one is really busy, especially during cherry and pear seasons.” And not only those living in Odell use the Odell Post Office — a lot of people living in Hood River utilize it, too.
“I get a lot of support from Hood River because Hood River is all around me,” he said, noting that Odell is really just three streets. The downside to that is even though a lot of people with a Hood River zip code use the Odell office, Hood River gets the business credit.
If you pay for postage online, it defaults to whatever post office falls in your zip code. This means that even if you mail a package in Odell, the Hood River site gets the credit for making the sale.
“When I first came here, that was a problem because I was doing all the work and not getting the credit,” he said. He has since gotten people to pick the Odell Post Office when they’re paying for postage online to increase the office’s revenue. And that is important because the more revenue Odell brings in, the greater the chance of it staying open.
To put it in perspective, McAlister is also in charge of the Mt. Hood-Parkdale Post Office, which is now open only six hours a day due recent downsizing. No one knows if that is the future of the Odell office.
“We’re assuming more positions, downscaling, cutting, doing more with what we’ve got, taking on other roles,” McAlister said.
“Things look good for us,” he said. “We have a good revenue base … but I can’t predict the future.”