Olympia neighborhood says goodbye to beloved mailman

For the people in Olympia’s Carlyon/North Neighborhood, their mailman has been more than just a mailman.

When he announced his retirement, several sandwich board signs popped up to thank Ric Zassenhaus for simply being Ric Zassenhaus.

Zassenhaus has delivered mail to about 450 households in the same area since 1982, and has walked about 10 miles a day while doing so.

He walked his last route March 23 and has been training a replacement. He officially retires Friday (April 1).

In the days leading up to retirement, Zassenhaus has been looking through all the cards and notes from people on his route. He has reminisced about customers who have died in recent years, but also the children who grew up, moved away and eventually came back to the neighborhood.

“I am more at home in that neighborhood than I am in my own,” said Zassenhaus, who lives on the east side of Olympia.

Zassenhaus has certainly seen his share of strange sights over the years, including a few naked people — something every mailman sees at some point, he said. He once had a close call with a police dog that got loose in the neighborhood and threatened to bite.

But it’s the conversations and the friendly waves from neighbors that rank among his fondest memories.

And while Zassenhaus loves the neighborhood, it’s obvious the neighborhood loves him right back.

On a walk this week, he brought along a list of longtime residents he wanted to visit and bid farewell. Each door was answered by a smiling resident with a sincere appreciation for the small-town charm that Zassenhaus brought to his route.

“You can really tell people thought of him as not just a mailman, but a friend,” said Carl See, the neighborhood association’s president. “It’s been heartening to see someone who is just doing their job and still making that connection in the neighborhood.”

Carolyn von Gohren, who lives on Lorne Street, described Zassenhaus as a “living legend in our neighborhood” who always went the extra mile.

One example stems from the time von Gohren’s mail was stolen a number of years ago. As a result, she began putting a note on the mailbox to alert the mailman about outgoing mail.

In a responsive gesture that brought peace of mind, Zassenhaus would ring the doorbell and let her know that the outgoing mail was safe for travel.

“He really cares about the people on his route,” she told The Olympian. “It’s a big loss for us.”

Zassenhaus has logged 42 years as a federal government employee, including a stint as an air traffic controller with the U.S. Army. He is retiring after maxing out his eligibility with the civil service retirement system.

Now, he is seeking a part-time job, preferably one that involves face-to-face interaction with customers.

“I’m too young to sit around the house,” said Zassenhaus, 59.

In the meantime, retirement will allow him to devote more time to music, skiing and family. He regularly plays acoustic guitar at St. Michael parish and hosts monthly volunteer singalongs with students at local schools, including Pleasant Glade Elementary in Lacey and Parkside Elementary in Tenino.

He’ll also have more time to spend with his wife, Melanie, as well as his three grown children and two young grandchildren.

And of course, Zassenhaus plans to visit the friends he found in his beloved Carlyon/North Neighborhood — the same people who kept him on the same route for 34 years.

“I’m OK with change,” he said, “but if I’m comfortable with something, I’ll stay there.”