Cordes leaves a strong record of service at Lovell Post Office

By: 
David Peck

Victor Cordes took the position of postmaster at the Lovell post office 13½ years ago, he began to forge a legacy of what a smalltown post office should look like, a post office dedicated to serving the community.
Cordes will retire from the U.S. Postal Service at the end of November, wrapping up a 33-year career, counting five years in the U.S Navy.
For Cordes, his philosophy is simple: Serve the community in the best way possible.
Cordes started as the postmaster in Lovell on April 24, 2010. He had started his career as a mail carrier in his hometown of Powell in 1996, worked his way into management in Colorado, then came home to become a postmaster.
“I started carrying mail in Powell in ’96; I was a part-time carrier,” he said. “Nobody leaves when they carry mail in a town like Powell. Those guys stayed there forever. So nobody was going anywhere. There was no upward mobility. I took a detail in Ralston as an OIC (officer in charge), basically filling in as the postmaster, which is a path to management.”
He found that position unfulfilling and returned to Powell to carry mail once again, noting, “I begged to come back and carry mail. I absolutely hated it.”
But he still yearned for something more.
“After 11 years there was no upward mobility, so I applied for a supervisor training course in Denver,” he said. “I wanted to put myself closer to moving up.”
Cordes transferred to Greeley, Colo., as a part-time carrier, “putting me back at the bottom of everybody,”
he said, then got into a supervisor training program. When finished, he was returned to Greeley in a supervisory capacity.
“I went from being an inmate to a guard,” he said. “I supervised there after being a carrier alongside them. Now I’m telling them what to do. That’s tough duty. I was one of them, now I’m against them. The union presence was pretty strong there. I learned the contract quickly, the hard way.
“I hated that office. It was me against 42 routes, carriers arguing with me about what they could do or couldn’t do … It was a battle, a fight every day.”
Just about the time he thought there was no light at the end of the tunnel, a position opened up in Craig, Colorado. Cordes applied and was hired as the postmaster in February of 2008, then began to look north. He applied and interviewed for the postmaster position in Powell in order to be closer to his aging parents and didn’t get the position.
The Powell job went to the Lovell postmaster, then Wendy Nielsen, now Troutman, so Cordes applied for Lovell but lost out when a postmaster from Nebraska, Mike Felton, was given a lateral move to Lovell. When Felton returned to Nebraska, the third time was the charm in Cordes’ quest to return to the Big Horn Basin. He was hired as the postmaster, and while it was essentially a downgrade from the larger Craig position, Cordes was happy to be home, returning to live and raise his family in Powell.
He hasn’t minded the daily commute, which gives him a chance to think about the day on the front end and unwind on the drive home.

BACKGROUND
Cordes was born in Powell and attended grade school in Powell until his father and mother, Forrest “Frosty” and Victoria Cordes, moved the family to Iran with the oil industry in 1973, though they returned for a visit every summer.
Cordes and a brother returned to Powell when tensions in Iran flared in 1979, and the family moved to Venezuela for about two years until returning home. Cordes completed junior high and high school in Powell, graduating in 1984.
Cordes attended Northwest College to study photojournalism, then moved on to Montana State University in Bozeman for a year.
He joined the Navy for five years, then returned to Powell and earned degrees in graphic arts and design at Northwest.
After working for KP Graphics in Powell, Cordes joined the staff of the Powell Tribune around 1994 as a jack of all trades, working as a designer, ad salesman, darkroom technician and press assistant before being lured to the Postal Service in 1996 by Powell postmaster John Cunning, a fellow Navy veteran.
Cordes started as a part-time carrier, which he said was a gamble, though part-time is misleading, he noted, in that the term simply meant he wasn’t guaranteed 40 hours a week, though he often did work 40 hours or more.
One of the benefits of joining the Postal Service was that his five years in the Navy counted as time with the agency when it came to retirement and benefits, and he became eligible to retire this year, which was perfect timing, with no kids left at home, other than a son at the University of Wyoming. Cordes plans to move to North Carolina and go into business with his sons.

A PROUD LEGACY
Looking back on his years with the Postal Service, he said most of his career has been smooth going except for a horrific winter storm in Greeley when traffic ground to a standstill. He also shudders at the incident in Lovell two years ago when a carrier was viciously attacked by dogs while on the job.
Overall, his time in Lovell has been great, he said.
“Lovell has been exactly what I expected it to be,” he said. “It’s a good office with good employees, and it’s just in a good community.
It’s just a nice place to work. The people are what make it a good place to work, and I hope that continues. The employees here that I work with are the best. I’ve been fortunate enough to hire people that fit into what I refer to as our family. We’re pretty tight.
“I always felt it was more important that someone’s personality was going to fit with our group rather than their skills. It really hinges on who’s in charge. You have to have a style that fits with the community you’re in.”
After more than 13 years in Lovell, Cordes said he knows his customers well and has a great relationship with them.
“At this point, after this long, I know just about everybody who comes in – my Lovell peeps. My kids are convinced that I do know the whole state of Wyoming – and I guess I kind of do. You go to a football game in Laramie, and it’s amazing how many people you know.
“This whole experience in Lovell has been smooth sailing. Nothing is alarming. Nothing really changes much.”
The main challenge of late has been delivering for Amazon, which he called “a complete nightmare,” with Sunday delivery and a huge number of packages being delivered compared to years gone by.

A REWARDING CAREER
“I chose my career because it was safe,” Cordes said. “I was looking for something that was going to take care of me and my family, and I would say the post office has. It has afforded me the ability to spend time with my family.
I was able to coach my kids, and I refereed football for 28 years. As for the people I work with here, I feel like we work with each other to allow each other to do other things than just work. We give each other a break to spend time with family and take vacations. The camaraderie here is just different than any place else I’ve been to.”
For Cordes, it’s all about smalltown customer service.
“I think that’s why I fit here.
I’m from a small town. I get it,” he said. “I also carried mail in a small town, and if I knew where it went, I delivered it.
“We’re a service organization.
My opinion only: I feel like we’ve lost sight of what Benjamin Franklin (first postmaster general) intended us to be. We provide a service. We deliver mail to people. And I think we’ve lost sight of that.
“The way we work here is, we provide our customers with a service, and maybe we bend the rules a little bit, but we give people what they want. It’s not so much that we do anything that is jeopardizing the sanctity of the mail or anything, we’re just making sure people get their mail.”
For instance, a clerk might run mail out to an elderly customer who doesn’t walk well.
“It’s those little things that make us different,” he said. “If I was the kind of guy who just didn’t care, on Friday I’d just leave and not worry about it. But that’s not me. I want to make sure things are still operating similarly when I’m not here.”
Cordes said an interim postmaster will be appointed, with a permanent replacement to be found soon.
Whatever happens, Cordes is confident that smooth operations will continue.
“These guys,” he said, referring to his current staff, “they won’t miss a beat – not at all. The thing about these guys here that you don’t find in big offices is they do whatever needs to be done. If that means a carrier has to case mail for the clerks or a clerk has to carry mail or a rural carrier has to help out somewhere else, these guys do it. That doesn’t happen in big offices.”

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