First the U.S. Congress took away its status as a capital city.
Then the United Brethren Church shuttered Lane University in the middle of town.
And now, as the U.S. Postal Service transfers two letter carriers out of town, Lecompton supporters fear they’ll be losing something even more critical to the community’s long-term survival.
Its very identity.
“This ranks right alongside — if not higher — than the events that have occurred here over the last 150 years,” said Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society, citing pivotal changes in the town northwest of Lawrence. “This is our identity. This is our heritage. This is just a challenge to every man, woman or child who’s ever lived in Lecompton.”
At issue is the Postal Service’s decision to transfer the Lecompton Post Office’s two rural letter carriers to work out of the post office in Perry.
The decision, discovered earlier this month, has riled up folks in the town of about 600 northwest of Lawrence. Bahnmaier has joined the Lecompton City Council; state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence; and state Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka and Senate Democratic Leader, in calling for the routes to remain in Lecompton.
The goal: Prevent the Postal Service from weakening the operation so much that it becomes a prime candidate for closure.
“It’s vital that Lecompton’s Post Office remain open, not only to serve local mail users, but to ensure that the city’s history is preserved for future generations,” Hensley said, in his letter to postal officials.
The Postal Service understands the concerns, and acknowledges the complaints, but its officials are busy finding ways to stem financial losses that amount to $23 million a day, said Richard Watkins, a regional spokesman.
“That’s a heck of a burden to confront every day, even before you open the door,” he said.
Relocating two rural carriers won’t come close to solving the service’s financial problems, he said, but efficiencies are being sought throughout a system that has 220,000 vehicles, with mail being delivered to 150 million addresses with operations in 32,000 communities.
Relocating the routes is about efficiency, he said, without sacrificing service. The same carriers will serve the same addresses. The Lecompton Post Office will remain open to sell stamps, accept packages, provide post office boxes and handle all the other services that a community relies upon.
The Postal Service has no plans to close the Lecompton Post Office, Watkins said, and any future decision to pursue such a closure — just as it would be anywhere — would be accompanied with plenty of community meetings, Congressional notifications and other public information.
The decision to relocate the rural routes is an independent one for efficiency’s sake, he said. Nothing more.
“Given the Postal Service’s current financial crisis, there are no guarantees,” he said. “But this is not an indication that further cuts are coming. It’s simply a way to save money and preserve service to all our customers, and it makes good business sense to us.”
Victoria Roberts Bahnmaier, who retired in 2007 as Lecompton’s postmaster, doesn’t buy the “business sense.” Lecompton is growing, has vibrant industrial growth nearby, is rich with historical resources and is primed for even more tourism connected with Constitution Hall and the Territorial Capital Museum, she said.
By taking sending employees to Perry, she said, the Postal Service essentially is sentencing the Lecompton Post Office to closure.
“This is just the first step,” said Bahnmaier, who is married to one of Paul’s cousins. “I’ve seen it happen lots of places.”
Paul Bahnmaier fears that someday soon he’ll be sending out Lecompton Historical Society correspondence, regarding the Territorial Capital Museum, without use of the Lecompton postmark that has grown popular among residents, visitors and students and historians.
The historian simply can’t imagine that happening.
“Then we’d be Perry, Kansas,” he said.