When 95-year-old Chester Reed of Riverside, Calif., retires today, he’ll relinquish not only the keys of the forklift truck he’s been driving, but also his status as the oldest Postal Service employee in the country.
For the past 37 years, Reed has shown up daily for his job as a mail handler at the San Bernardino Processing and Distribution Facility in Redlands, Calif., an hour east of Los Angeles. Although he works out of the public’s sight, he’s not sitting at a desk, pushing papers. Instead, Reed is canceling letters and unloading, sorting and processing mail. And he’s driving a forklift truck and moving shrink-wrapped pallets stacked with mail tubs and trays from one place to another.
“I love the job,” he says.
A traveling man
Born in Bridgeport, Ohio, on Oct. 27, 1914, Reed spent his early years in St. Clairsville, Ohio, with his mother, auto-mechanic father and seven siblings. Eager to see the world, he hit the road after graduation, trying different cities and different careers until he ended up in Texas, where he joined the Air Force. His tours of duty took him to Okinawa, Japan, and Wiesbaden, Germany.
Reed met his wife, Iva Katherine, at a dance during the war. They were married for 60 years and had two sons, Byron and Richard, before she died in 2007.
Reed retired from the Air Force as a sergeant in 1972 after 25 years of service, but retirement didn’t quite suit him. So, in 1973, at age 59, he signed on with the U.S. Postal Service.
Reed has had many supervisors over the years, and knew how to get along with all of them. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the boss, the boss is the boss,” he says. His current supervisor, Mary Brunkhorst, manager of distribution operations, appreciates and respects Reed. “He’s a great employee and his mind is as sharp as a tack,” she says.
Secret of his success
Reed, who has never taken a sick day during his 62 years of government service, attributes his good health to the onion-and-mayo sandwich he eats every day. (He’s partial to Vidalia onions.) “The vinegar in the mayo takes some of the sting out of the onion,” he says.
Besides onions, Reed also has this advice for a healthy and fulfilled life: “Trust in God and work hard.”
The man who can find a Bible verse to suit almost any situation is now ready to try retirement again. “There is a time for everything,” he says, “and it’s time for me to retire.”
But he won’t be taking it easy. He has plans to do some gardening, play some golf—and follow NASCAR. “I love NASCAR,” he says. So much so that at today’s retirement party, the San Diego district manager will present Reed with a USPS/NASCAR leather jacket. Travel is also on his agenda: Russia, Scandinavia and India. “My dream is to see the Taj Mahal,” he says.
The highlight of his travels so far was going to Brazil with his son Richard three years ago and hang-gliding over Rio de Janeiro.
“I wanted to get in the Guinness World Records as the oldest person to hang-glide over Rio de Janeiro,” he says, “but I was told I’d have a long wait—the record holder was 98.”
Cathie Gandel is a writer in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner