The Mayor of 16802

May 17, 2016 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Herr shows off one of the 40 "relax" signs in different languages.

You might not notice right away, but hidden behind the affable greetings and omnipresent grin, Mike Herr is a rebel with a cause. Many remember the student-led protest in 2000 over the local postmaster’s mandate that he take down the signs and posters he’d plastered all over the walls of the University Park post office. But hardly anybody recalls the shaggy haircut he had when he started at the Fraser Street location back in 1968, or the steel-toed sneakers he bought after being told several times that his regular, rubber-soled pair weren’t up to regulation, or the fact that, when he was finally given a clothing allowance to buy a required necktie, he wore it on his arm.

“You can get away with a lot when you do it with a smile,” he says, with a smile.

In his nearly five-decade tenure with the U.S. Postal Service, Herr also refused to wear a nametag, though that particular rule long ago seemed pointless where Herr is concerned. Seemingly everybody knew him, and those who didn’t were bound to before long. “It’s nuts,” says his oldest daughter, Marykate Weeks. “His fingerprint is across the country. Everywhere he goes, he’s recognized.”

No surprise, then, that the letters and cards and (of course) cookies began streaming in within moments of 70-year-old Herr’s retirement announcement in February. He made it official on April 1 (no fooling), 48 years to the day after he took the job, and plans to finish the book he started writing last year. Longtime faculty, far-flung alumni, and parents he’s never met all felt compelled to tell him how much he meant to them, to their families, and to Penn State. There were perhaps more retirement parties planned for him this spring than there are major holidays in a calendar year.

“There’s a lot of love out there for me,” Herr admits with incredulity and a shake of his head. “I’m just me; I’m a simple guy doing simple things.”

That simple guy’s rebellious streak started early. His wife of nearly 40 years, Mary Kathleen, remembers the sisters at their Catholic school in Lock Haven trying to steer her in a different direction. “The nuns would say to me, ‘Stay away from that Mike Herr,’” says Mary Herr ’84 MEd Edu, who began casually dating him when she was a freshman in high school. He wasn’t a troublemaker but a dedicated jokester, someone who didn’t necessarily follow the rules if he didn’t see a good reason for them. The two dated off and on over the next several years, even corresponding via letters when Mary entered a convent at age 21, planning to fulfill her long-held dream of becoming a nun.

“Eventually the directress said to me, ‘Mary, dear, you cannot keep writing to that Mike Herr,’” she says. After three years, she decided that living a life with “that Mike Herr” out in the real world would allow her to serve God with a smile unlike any she’d been able to find without him.

“We’ve very lucky to have each other, and I think it’s God’s miracle to us,” she says. Their life together includes two grown daughters, one feisty cat, and a home they’ve operated at times as a bed and breakfast, hosting visiting alumni, newlyweds, and parents of current students—most of whom are already enamored of the man of the house, even when he sometimes shirks his Sunday morning cleanup duties in favor of a tennis match with a friend, or takes his bride out to eat when it’s his night to cook.

Mary, a self-described perfectionist who retired in 2011 after a career as a reading specialist in the State College Area School District, says her husband’s lack of professional aspirations—he held the same job for the last 48 years—used to bother her. “I’d say, ‘Don’t you want to go into management? What are your goals?’ And he’d say, ‘I’d like to be a professional gambler.’”

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Entry filed under: From the Magazine. Tags: , .

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