Dan, the postman, has a legacy at the Camas Post Office

Smith's following of fans appreciate his friendly demeanor

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“Little kids are now adults with kids of their own. They ask, ‘Are you still here?'”

— Dan Smith, 33 year USPS employee

When Dan Smith started working for the United States Postal Service, a first class stamp cost less than a quarter.

Thirty-three years later, the rate is 49 cents.

“Most people are relatively tolerant of it,” Smith said, regarding the price increases for postage during the past three decades.

He is a retail sales associate for the USPS, at the post office in downtown Camas. There are more than 600 post office boxes in the building located at 440 N.E. Fifth Ave.

Smith, 67, often calls customers by their first name, and many of them know his name also.

"Little kids are now adults with kids of their own. They ask, 'Are you still here?'"

-- Dan Smith, 33 year USPS employee

Nicole McDonald, an employee of Arktana, a shoe store, said Smith is friendly, helpful and upbeat.

“Even during the holidays, he’s always smiling,” she said. “I have not seen him get frazzled.”

Dan Liehr, a delivery driver for 28 years with UPS, described Smith as personable and friendly.

Kimberly Comer, a first time visitor to the Camas postal building, was there to send her son’s wedding invitations. After Smith showed several stamp options, Comer chose a white rose design.

She was impressed with his customer service skills and helpful attitude.

“He’s fabulous,” she said. “He likes to know about fun events. He must care about the community and its people.”

Smith sometimes whistles while he works.

He attributes his positive attitude to his mother, 92-year-old Virginia Smith.

“That’s the way she is,” he said.

Smith’s topics of discussion with postal customers have included classic cars, camping and motorcycle trips.

Local residents have been known to recognize Smith when they are traveling.

He saw four Camas postal customers in Disneyland, and three familiar faces at the airport in San Francisco.

“My son asked, ‘do you know everybody?'” Smith said.

“Camas is growing, so you don’t know all the customers, but eventually you do,” Smith added.

Near where he stands for eight hours a day, Smith has collected several wind-up toys to show some of his younger customers — particularly children who are crying. The miniature toys include a crab waving its pincers and Santa riding a reindeer.

Speaking of Santa, Smith’s white beard has led some children to wonder if he is Mr. Claus.

“Kids look at me in December, wondering if I’m the guy,” Smith said. “I can see their wheels turning.

“It’s fun,” he added.

Smith has three children and three grandchildren.

Changes and adventures

Through the years, there has been an increase in the number of people who pay their bills via the internet. That loss in postal revenues is partially offset by people who ship items for eBay and other online commerce sites.

Smith remembers when postal employees sorted mail primarily by hand. Now, the sorting is mostly done by machine.

Mail used to be weighed on manual scales. Now there are digital scales.

Smith has seen several generations of local residents visit the post office.

“Little kids are now adults with kids of their own,” he said. “They ask, ‘Are you still here?'”

When Smith, a Skamania County resident, was interviewed for the postal service job, the postmaster asked if he would be able to get to work during inclement weather.

“I’ve never missed any time at work because of the weather,” Smith said.

He recalled a particular Christmas Eve morning in the mid 1980s, when six trees were blocking a road in Skamania County and there was freezing rain.

Smith drove home to get his chain saw and cut the trees.

That made him two hours late to work.

“I put my life on the line,” Smith said. “I probably should have stayed home.”

During his first two years with the USPS, he delivered mail along the downtown route. As a letter carrier, Smith never got bit by a dog, but he recalled another day in which the weather was freezing.

He wore a knit hat, with just his eyes, nose and mouth exposed. Smith realized what he was wearing just as he entered Heritage Bank (at the current U.S. Bank site), and he removed the hat in order not to create any security concerns.

A background of service

In 1967, Smith was drafted into the Army, where he served two years. His brother was in Vietnam, so Smith served in Germany.

"Little kids are now adults with kids of their own. They ask, 'Are you still here?'"

-- Dan Smith, 33 year USPS employee

After two years, he had an opportunity to re-enlist.

“I could see it was not going to be my career choice,” Smith said.

“Serving in the military was a good life experience,” he added. “Everything adds up in the big picture of life.”

Smith gained discipline and friends, while in the Army.

“I met a broad spectrum of people from all over the United States,” he said. “Spending time in another country was an education in itself.”

Smith attended Chapman College, in Orange, Calif., on the GI Bill. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and he minored in criminal justice.

Smith worked in the drug abuse prevention program coordinator’s office at the Orange County Department of Mental Health.

After moving to Washington State in 1977, he spent two years in construction, in east Vancouver. Smith framed houses in the Cascade Park area, before the Interstate 205 Glenn Jackson Bridge was built.

He was a teacher’s aide for a third-grade class, for one year, at Skamania School.

That was followed by one year as an aide for eighth-graders.

“That was the best job I’ve ever had — the lowest paying, but the best — with all due respect to my postal customers,” Smith said. “It was fun, working with the kids.”

“Little kids are now adults with kids of their own. They ask, ‘Are you still here?'”

— Dan Smith, 33 year USPS employee