Emery Townsend has delivered a lot of mail in his 60 years as a U.S. Postal Service contract route carrier. In 1957 Townsend and bride Bebe signed their first four-year contract for the Ragged Mountain and Muddy Creek areas.
Last week more than 50 people gathered at the Paonia Post Office to honor Townsend. They came from as far away as Grand Junction and Florissant. Former Somerset postmasters Barbara Barnes and Sheryl Wardlaw were there. His children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews were there, and so were many of those living along his route. To him, they are all family.
"I would never imagine 60 years ago what this would turn into," said a humbled Townsend. He and Bebe originally planned to take the job for four years to help pay the grocery bills, but they kept renewing their contract.
Townsend, who was born on Sept. 11, arrived in Paonia in 1933 at the age of 9 after his family fled the dust storms in Baca County. He spoke to the crowd of his love for his job and the people and places on his route, which has changed little in 60 years. Once when he needed new tires, one of his deliveries bought him a set. When the great mudslide of 1986 closed Highway 133, Johnny Hotchkiss granted him access across his land so Townsend wouldn't miss a delivery.
Townsend thanked children Patricia, Bonnie and Eddie for stepping in when he couldn't make his deliveries. Patricia shared that she never did figure out who put a snake in a mail box one day, but she thinks it was Larry McIntire because when she passed by him, he was laughing.
He looked up and thanked his late wife, with whom he tied the forever knot 73 years earlier to the day at Paonia Friends Church. "Thanks to Bebe we always managed to carry the mail," he said.
He called Ragged Mountain the oldest mountain in Colorado, because "Ain't any mountain that's got as many wrinkles as it has."
Townsend, a storyteller at heart, told of watching a mountain lion catch and eat a rabbit while he was on lunch break. Just recently, he said, he was returning from his route when a bald eagle appeared in front of his car and escorted him down the road for almost a mile. He said it was possibly the most beautiful thing he'd seen in his life.
"I love that Ragged Mountain," said Townsend. "I know you love it, too." He said that while he also worked for the U.S. Forest Service and operated an orchard, running his route "has been the frosting on the cake."
Postal employees presented Townsend with a series of National Parks stamps and envelopes commemorating the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies. Members of the three-plus generations of families who relied on him to deliver their mail brought cards, some delivered in tiny mail boxes.
Somerset acting postmaster Matt Davis called Townsend an example of what a great employee should be, and a "shining example that no matter what you do in life, you can make a career out of it."
Paonia Postmaster Kyla Vasick presented Townsend a plaque recognizing his 60 years as "The Faithful Carrier."
"It has been a pleasure to work with you," said Vasick in presenting the plaque. "And you really should write a book."