For nearly four decades and many thousands of times over, every letter, every magazine, and every parcel that passed through Cazenovia College’s mailroom, whether it was officially stamped that way or not, was decidedly “handled with care.”
That’s just the way Mary Hess worked as clerk, then manager, of the College’s mailroom for the last 37 years. The woman known to so many students and a host of campus staff and faculty friends as “Mailroom Mary” retired September 25. She had been delivering smiles, well wishes and a welcoming spirit — along with thousands upon thousands of pieces of mail destined for Cazenovia College students, staff and faculty — since 1983.
Mary clocked a total of 52 years as a College employee, originally beginning her career in the Housekeeping Department in December 1968. After 15 years there, she became mail clerk in 1983, and eight years later, was promoted to mailroom manager.
Always a Smile
For so many who remember her fondly and who experienced her friendly personality, every trip to pick up their mail or having a package dropped off was akin to a special delivery.
Emeritus Professor of History Fred Williams, who taught for 27 years at Cazenovia, and who knew Mary from both work roles, described the quintessential “Mary” way.
“She always had a friendly word. She was a very positive addition to the campus, willing to do anything for anybody. She always, always, always had a smile on her face. She got to know most people’s families, our children and our grandchildren, and has followed a lot of us through the years. She wanted to keep informed and know what was new with them. That made us all seem more like family, which is what is supposed to happen on a small campus.”
Director, Campus Services Jeff Slocum, Mary’s last work supervisor, says the longtime Cazenovia resident was a standout employee not only because of her pleasant personality, but through her dedication, high standards, and exemplary work ethic. “It goes without saying that
she is one of the most dedicated employees the College has ever had,” Slocum noted. “As with postal workers, Mary never called to ask for assistance to deliver during inclement weather. She just continued her route as if it was just another day. And she would tell you she has worked way past the normal retirement age because she loved the daily interaction with the students.”
Emeritus Professor Williams assessed, “The mailroom was a one-person department, and that was Mary’s bailiwick. She ran the mailroom. She was very proud of it and she did just a great job of doing her job.”
Mary’s pride of place extended well beyond her own workspace, Slocum said, and she cared about the whole campus. Whenever something was broken or out of place, she’d report it immediately, he recalled.
Shari Whitaker, director of alumni and parent relations director, is thankful to have worked with Mary for more than 17 years. That’s partly because Mary was “an excellent source of campus memories and unofficial history,” and partly because she simply enjoyed Mary’s company, Whittaker said. “On a quiet mail day or a blustery winter morning, Mary was always willing to sit down for a quick chat in the Alumni House to share a recollection about an alumnus who had just called or sent a letter. Without a doubt, Mary touched so many lives during her time at the College and will be sorely missed,” Whitaker added.
A Heart for Students
While Mary left great impressions and made good friends with faculty and staff members during her time at the College, it was the student population that captured her heart and became much like an extended family. She was known to say that she couldn’t retire because so many students, who wanted the experience of working with her, just kept asking her to come back, year, after year, after year.
Jeannina Clark ’18, of Liverpool, New York, was one of the “Mailroom Mom’s” work-study students. She spent two to three hours a day in the mailroom with Mary all four years on campus. Clark said she liked the job because there was real work to keep her busy, but mostly because Mary was Mary.
“I loved being around her. She was great. Her memory of people and what kind of packages they would get was very vivid. Once the school year started and you got your mail every so often, she knew who you were. She didn’t have to ask students’ names; she’d just go pick out your mail when you came for it because she already knew who you were.”
Mary also provided another needed service to those who sought her out: she was a good sounding board, Clark recalled. “She was also somebody that I talked to about my problems at school. She was almost like a relative of mine.”
The time spent with Mary and the knowledge that rubbed off from her natural know-how in human relations provided Clark with inadvertent valuable lessons, the alumnus now recognizes.
They included tools she uses now in her job as a nursing home human resources recruiter: “resolving problems, how to better communicate with people, understanding how different people have different issues going on, having a level of respect for people even if they are having a problem, and helping people as best as possible,” the 2018 grad said.
“All the time Mary spent there was more than just a job,” added Clark. “She brought so much more to the campus than just being there and completing the job she had to do. I don’t think the campus will be the same without her.”
The indelible impressions Mary left after 52 years of service, and the spirit of pride, camaraderie, and service excellence she imparted through her work won’t go unrecognized, even though she is no longer a daily presence on campus.
The College is making plans to name the mail center “The Mary Hess Mailroom,” dedicating that space to recognizing her long history of service and her personal contributions to a positive campus culture, according to Julie Palmer, executive director of development. The goal is to raise $5,000 towards an endowed fund to help pay for student employment.
“Through her many years at Cazenovia, Mary employed many students, affectionately referring to them as “my students” when she talked about them. Many of them would attest to the positive impact their Mailroom jobs had on shaping their Cazenovia College experience,” Palmer said.
More information about that initiative will be forwarded to students, parents, staff and alumni so they can participate in the recognition. In the meantime, gifts can be made by sending a check “In Honor” of Mary Hess to Cazenovia College or online at https://www.cazenovia.edu/support-cazenovia.