Good mail carriers make good neighbors

John Kelly
Columnist December 30, 2012

Every neighborhood has a letter carrier. Not every neighborhood has a Kenny.

For 20 years, Kenny Clark has been delivering letters and packages to about 300 homes in Westgate, a Bethesda neighborhood around Western and Massachusetts avenues.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“He’s watched this neighborhood change and grow,” said Ami Susan Petrucelli, whose family has lived there for 10 years. “What is constant is Kenny. He’s always connected us all.”

Kenny keeps an eye on kids as he makes his rounds. He asks after family members. He rescues misdirected mail. In October, he called Dana Rice at home to see when would be a good time to deliver a package that needed a signature.

It was that extra effort that prompted Dana to praise Kenny on the neighborhood’s e-mail message group. Soon others were chiming in with Kenny stories. Wouldn’t it be nice, people thought, to honor him in some way?

And so preparations began for “Kudos for Kenny” day, celebrated Dec. 21.

As Kenny started his appointed rounds that Friday, neighbors were on the lookout for him. “It was almost like Santa himself,” Ami Susan said. “People were saying, ‘Have you seen Kenny?’ This buzz went throughout the neighborhood.”

Kenny made his way through the streets — Worthington, Newport, Jamestown — encountering signs in yards and on doors, made by young and old alike.

Thank you! Kenny!! Kenny you are awesome!!! We Love Kenny!! Kenny, the best mail man ever . . .

And my favorite: Who needs
e-mail when you have . . . Kenny!!!!!

He received a hero’s welcome when he arrived at Westbrook Elementary School. When he got to the Thorntons’ house on Allan Road, he was presented with a booklet full of thank you letters and the first appreciation award bestowed by the Westmoreland Citizens Association. It read in part: “In scorching heat, blinding wind and rain, freezing cold or snowy days, you continue to show us that infectious smile that unites us all and inspires others to be a little kinder, a little more helpful and a lot more appreciative . . . because of you!”

Said Ami Susan: “I cannot tell you how proud I was to live in this neighborhood. I think during these times, where we get so busy, it’s important to sit back and think about what you do have.”

I caught Kenny on the phone after he’d finished his route Friday. He pulled his mail truck over and spoke with me, saying he was blown away by all the hoopla. “It felt like I was running a marathon,” he said. “Every house had another picture, a different sign.”

It made him feel warm all over.

“The kids really set it off for me this year,” Kenny said. “When I went to the school, one of the kids said, ‘That’s Kenny. That’s my mailman.’ The other kid said, ‘I don’t even know my mailman’s name.’ ”

Bowled over

Among the victims of the summer’s freak derecho storm was a 120-foot black walnut tree in the Great Falls back yard of Mimi Mattis and her husband, Peter Engebretson. It missed the house, but it wasn’t going to be easy to clear away. Then Mimi heard that woodworkers might be interested in the literal windfall.

She put the word out, and about 10 came to saw off various chunks, reducing the mass by about a third. Then, not long before Christmas, one of the woodworkers dropped off a finely turned salad bowl.

“I always, as a thank you, present a bowl to them turned from the tree that came down on their property,” said Benjamin Leatham, who runs Studio Niche in Springfield.

“It was a boon for me,” Benjamin said of the storm. In fact, global warming gives him a lot to work with. “I think I turned 300 bowls from storm salvage this year.”

Mimi’s tree was especially prized. Black walnut is attractive to begin with, Mimi’s especially so as it’s shot through with interesting reds, browns and blacks.

“The sandy, mineral-rich soil really picks up that color and striping,” Benjamin said.

Mimi and Peter don’t need as much land as they have — 31 / acres means a lot of mowing, raking and shoveling — so they’ll soon be moving.

They’re sad to leave a house that’s been in Peter’s family for 60 years, but they have a souvenir, a handsome bowl from a favorite tree. And written on the bottom is “Storm salvage, Great Falls, VA.”

Children’s Hospital

I love it when communities come together. You can help our community by donating to Children’s National Medical Center. Do it by Tuesday so you can take a tax deduction this year. Just go to www.childrensnational.org/
washingtonpost
or send a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. Donations go to pay the hospital bills of poor children.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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