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.