Throughout her 34-year careeer with the U.S. Postal Service, Columbia’s retiring postmaster has worked many positions, met many people and changed many lives.
As Christina Buss said goodbye to her team Oct. 1, she knew these would be the people she would miss the most.
“I will miss seeing the people that I have seen the past seven years almost every day of my life,” Buss said. “I have been crying all morning.”
Prior to working at Columbia, Buss took on her first postmaster duties in Smithton in 2010.
“Even though Columbia is much larger than (the Smithton office), we are still a very tight-knit group. Even though the town is larger than Smithton, it still feels like a small town,” Buss said. “There are so many good people in Columbia. I have met a lot of good people (and) a lot of good customers.”
As an extrovert, it is no surprise she fell in love with the work.
Buss started her postal career in May 1988 at the East St. Louis post office as a clerk, and worked her way through several different positions and offices.
She said her days as a carrier helped teach her two of the biggest lessons she learned in her career: patience and empathy.
“When I was a carrier, I knew so much about my customers. Some people just needed somebody to talk to, and I think the face of the postal service, which is the carriers and the clerks, the customers gravitate towards (them) because that is their one constant,” Buss said. “ The post office is a constant, it is an everyday occurrence.”
The biggest challenge of her 34-year career didn’t come until recently with the pandemic.
“Last year we called the months of March and April ‘COVID Christmas’ because it seemed like everything just doubled and it has not slowed down,” Buss said. “I don’t think the post office was ready for that because all of a sudden we’re getting twice as much as we were getting in packages and we didn’t have the staffing (or) transportation for it.”
Throughout this, she has approached countless frustrated customers with understanding. Once again, she saw how simply lending a listening ear can make a difference.
“We try to listen and to acknowledge that there is an issue and resolve it the best we can … maybe we cannot do anything about it right off the bat, but we will definitely do our research and try to figure out a (solution),” Buss explained, having earlier stated, “The one thing I want people to understand is your local post office is a family and community server. In the big scheme of things, yes, it’s slowing down across the nation, but you can always rely on your local post office to do their best and get what we have to you.”
Even with this ongoing challenge, Buss said she would not change anything about her career.
“It has been a company that has survived through all the changes and helped put my daughter through college, so I couldn’t ask for anything better. I am a person without a college education, and the post office has let me grow into who I am today,” Buss said.
Through managerial positions, Buss has been able to award these same opportunities to others – no matter their age or backgrounds.
“I’m hiring people knowing that I’m giving them the opportunity to have a good career and to start in the post office and in the field,” Buss said. “That has always been special too, because I’ve given a lot of people their start; I’ve trained a lot of people through the years. I have seen young people straight out of high school coming in, I’ve trained people in their 50s who have already had a career or they’ve just lost their job.”
With retirement now underway, Buss is finding new ways to serve her community. By next year, she will be taking classes to become a foster parent as well as volunteering for Hospice of Southern Illinois, who helped her family as she lost her parents.
“I can help those families that are going through the same thing I went through,” Buss said of the latter adventure.
Of course, Buss said she is looking forward to having one of the biggest holidays back.
“For the first time in 34 years, I’m going to enjoy Christmas as a non-postal employee,” Buss said with a laugh. “That’s our busiest time of year with very, very long days.”