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At 96, Rural Mail Carrier Smashes Normal Retirement Age

TAMARACK, Minn. (WCCO) -- For most of us, retirement will come in our 60s. But Aitkin County mail carrier Bill Onstad is anything but your average worker.

When asked how many years he's been a mail carrier, Onstad quickly replies, "Well, that's what I don't know. I can't remember when I started."

At the tender age of 96, Onstad has been hauling mail on his rural Aitkin County route since 1969 -- some 47 years.

Bill Onstad
(credit: CBS)

Everyday he'd visit the mailboxes of residents along a 40-mile route to rural customers around his home of Tamarack, population 94.

It's said that rain or shine, snow or sleet, nothing stops the U.S. mail. Spend a day with Onstad and you'd add age to the list.

He begins the day at the Tamarack post office around 7:00 a.m., sorting his mail deliveries before he heads out on his route. Then begins a day of driving dirt roads and desolate blacktop.

"Here isn't bad, you've got to go north," Onstad chuckles.

Over his career of 47 years, Bill has won all kinds of honors for his service. He's also made all kinds of friends along the way, occasionally stopping in for coffee and a brief chat.

With a boyish grin and soft giggle, he admits, "I don't think that was approved by the postal service."

Onstad could have easily retired long ago and likely would have. But the loss of his wife, Doris, in 1989 changed his mind. It was either keep working or risk a sad and lonely fate.

"I wouldn't have known what to do…the greatest woman in the world," Onstad said.

Without Doris around to make sure he was safe, his customers kept tabs on Bill. They would often check when roads were bad, or deliveries late, asking each other if he was OK.

"We worried about him. The neighbors would call, 'Bill's late, Bill's late,'" said Cindy Risen, his niece and one of his rural customers.

Onstad's supervisor, McGregor area postmaster Bruce Johnston, says he'll be hard to replace.

Bill Onstad
(credit: CBS)

"Everybody was used to him and knew him as Bill the mailman. So it will be an adjustment for his customers out there," Johnston said.

Walking into the Tamarack post office lobby, Onstad is asked, "Are you going to miss this old place?"

Without hesitation Bill replies, "I do, I have to be honest with you."

Just as no retirement could be more deserved, no rural mail carrier could ever be more loved.

Adds Bill with a soft chuckle, "I'll miss getting up in the morning to have something to do. The last couple of days I haven't been able to get up. I don't know what to do."

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