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.

Mike Herr on tennis court

IN THE SWING: An avid player and former umpire, Mike is looking forward to having time to work on his game.


“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.

collage of Herr family photos

A HAPPY LIFE IN HAPPY VALLEY: Born in Lock Haven, Mike never moved far from home, building a life in Centre County with Mary Kathleen and daughters Marykate and Michaela. THON was among many ways they immersed themselves in Penn State life.


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.’”

While he does enjoy a good card game, Herr possesses a poker-playing skill that also came in handy on the job. “I’m really good at reading people’s faces,” he says. He knew homesick first-year students would get a kick out of his “Freshman Things To Do” list, and a student far from home would feel less so after being flashed a handmade “Relax” sign in their native language. Herr had 40 of them at the ready behind the counter, along with his coveted “Nice Sneakers!” sign, various props, and five or six hard hats borrowed from construction crews and OPP employees, which he’d don whenever one came in. Turns out he had plenty of professional ambition, of a sort.

“I’m not a post office person; I’m a postal service person,” he says. “I think the word ‘service’ has been missing from the post office for years.”

That philosophy explains the loyalty that led to Herr’s longstanding spring bar tour. “We started the Cliffy Clavin Bar Tour during Senior Week I think in 1992,” says Mark Sohn ’92 H&HD, a national champion gymnast for the Nittany Lions who got to know Herr through their membership in Parmi Nous. For the tour’s first few years, Herr supplied postal worker shirts to Sohn and two other friends, and the foursome all wore blue shorts and black tube socks, asking the bartender at their first stop, The Gingerbread Man, to please turn the TV set to Cheers.

Cheers at the time was super popular,” says Sohn, who remembers many Cliff Clavin quotes being thrown around that night. “We had post office stamps and we’d stamp people.” The next year, they added pith helmets to the mix, and eventually, the renamed “Cheers First Class Tour” took on a life of its own, including annual T-shirts designed by Herr and a roster of more than 100 participants. The 2015 tour, which Herr swears was the last, included 120 people. When they entered the Indigo dance club at the scheduled time of 8:57 p.m., the DJ played the 1961 classic “Please Mr. Postman,” and Mike and “Katie,” as Herr calls his wife, led the dancing.

But Herr was up early the next morning, starting his day the way he always does: On his knees in prayer in his bedroom closet, where he keeps a few religious items and the quiet whispers of whatever’s on his heart. He didn’t miss work that day or hardly any other—in fact, he says he’ll have retired with about 3,500 hours of accumulated sick time.

Mike Herr with pie

PIE, OH MY!: His long-running "Cookie of the Month" contest aside, Mike's favorite dessert is actually coconut cream pie.


Herr has been overly sentimentalized in all sorts of outlets over the years, but it’s difficult to be flippant about a guy who’s lived his life like a Norman Rockwell painting: As young adults, he says, he and his two sisters would convene around their parents’ kitchen table late at night, talking about their respective dates while eating Oreos and drinking milk. His parents were married for 68 years, and Herr helped care for both of them until the end. He raised his daughters to be excited about rainy days by racing popsicle sticks down their street’s gutter. Last fall he pushed a neighbor out of the way of a falling tree branch, taking the brunt of the limb’s force that required 11 stitches on top of the mailman’s head.

That accident occurred just days before the Penn State Thespians’ production of Legally Blonde, in which he had 11 speaking lines. The guy who calls himself “shy” had practiced morning and night, and the head injury didn’t slow him down. He got up the next morning and went to work, and then to rehearsal; he was ready. On opening night, he was given just one bit of feedback about his performance. “During the first intermission, the director said to me, ‘Mike the Mailman, tomorrow when you walk on stage, don’t say your lines right away, because it got really loud when you walked on stage,’” he says. “I was so focused, I hadn’t even noticed.”

Weeks says her dad’s unassuming responses to such adoration are just as authentic as the rest of him. She has helped him with every THON “mail call” since the early ’90s, has eaten tons of the goodies he’s brought home from thankful patrons, and has never seen him turn down a photo request from a passerby. Mostly, though, she’s been amazed by the example he sets at home. “I’ll hear my mom laughing, and it’s because my dad has just told a stupid joke,” Weeks says. “They’re about to celebrate 40 years of marriage and she still gets a kick out of him.”

THE MULCH MAN: The landscaping at his home in Boalsburg figures to get more attention now.


Weeks says her father’s love for the university has seeped into their family’s life, and that won’t retire with him. She and her dad went to plenty of Penn State sporting events when she was growing up—wrestling is his favorite—and he always got her popcorn while they watched the action. “Every game I would find a jumbo marshmallow in my popcorn, and he would say, ‘Whoops! You just missed the Nittany Lion, but he left that for you,’” she says. “This went on and on for a couple years and I never caught him in the act.

“Then a few years ago, I went to a [basketball] game with him over the Christmas holiday and he asked if I wanted a snack at halftime. I didn’t think much of it and said, ‘Grab whatever.’ He brought me back popcorn. And don’t you know, later in the second half of the game, I found a marshmallow.”

That Mike Herr. Surely, smuggling treats into the Bryce Jordan Center is against the rules.