ABIE – The green population sign posted alongside the road visible to those passing through the Village of Abie reads 69, but it’s really anyone’s guess just how accurate that figure is.
“There’s been a whole lot of changes in the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” said Nancy Lanc, who lives about a half-mile east of the village. “I see people go to a nursing home or pass away and there’s always variation … People move in and then within a month or two they move out. You get to know them and then they are just gone.”
As with the population, Abie’s downtown business presence has also come and gone. During the last 10-15 years, several downtown fixtures have closed up shop. In 2017, it was the Abie Auditorium that closed due to expenses, and now it looks like the Abie Community Post Office housed inside of the Abie Volunteer Fire Department building is next.
Recently, Lanc received word from Wahoo Post Master Mark Fisher – her direct supervisor - that when she steps away from her post for retirement at the end of this month that the facility will close its doors for good, according to Carroll Krivanek, the do-all of the village who serves on the five-person village governing board and acts as fire chief, water/sewer operator and village treasurer.
Lanc in March tendered her resignation with the understanding that somebody would simply pick up the contract when she left. Unlike with federal employees, those manning smaller, rural post office locations around the state simply bid on a contract to run the facility and are paid by the U.S. Postal service to complete the task.
“You have to sign a contract with the U.S. Postal Service and then pay you to run it,” Lanc said, noting that she took over the contract in 2000 when Sharon Brekca stepped away from the position.
Since the village’s late-1800s establishment there has always been a post office, Krivanek said, noting that before it was moved into the fire hall in the early 2000s it was positioned for years inside of the old Abie State Bank building.
If the closure goes through, the 35 post office boxes would be placed in a cluster at a spot near the current post office and businesses would be forced to make daily runs about 4 miles south to Bruno to ship packages and do other business.
“We are lucky to have businesses like Abie’s Place and a few others that use this place,” Krivanek said of the post office. “Abie’s place ships out stuff all the time, Krivanek Construction is always sending out paperwork and my wife does a lot of shipping on eBay …
“It’s going to create extra expense and travel time to go to Bruno. Most things need to be mailed on a daily basis and this will make things even harder for the little business that we do have left in Abie. It’s kind of like a stab in the heart to a town like this.”
He said it would also eliminate yet again another gathering hub. While one might not think of a post office as a congregation site, the Abie Community Post Office throughout the years has been a place for a cup of coffee and some quality chatter during the morning hours.
“We live outside of town, but we come here to get our mail, too,” said Dorothy Vavrina, who has served as a post office substitute since the 1980s. “And then there is a group of us every morning around this table here who gather to talk and find out what’s going on … It’s a meeting place for us to come and enjoy one another.”
What Krivanek said he believes is so foolish is that if Lanc were to keep her contract the postal service would honor it year after year for the foreseeable future.
“As far as I know from speaking with Mark (Fisher), if Nancy were to keep the contract she could keep that contract until she’s 100 and they would renew it yearly, but the second she relinquishes that it’s at the discretion of the postal service whether they want to continue it, offer it up to someone else or just close (shop).”
When it was learned by Lanc and other village leaders that the U.S. Postal Service didn’t plan to contract another person to run the Abie Community Post Office, an effort was made to reverse the process that was already well underway. Krivanek said that the village board met with Fisher and was informed that the best course of action would be for Lanc to rescind her resignation, keep the contract and then hire somebody to run that contract in her place.
“And we thought that was a 100-percent way we could keep our post office,” Krivanek said. “Then yesterday (Monday) she (Lanc) received notice from Mark that that isn’t going to work – the paperwork is already in progress and there’s really nothing that we can do about it.”
Krivanek noted, though, that Fisher encouraged the village to contact state and national representatives to file a grievance. On Monday, Lanc reached out to Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s office and spoke with an aide whom she said was very attentive and engaged to the situation.
“We told him that we have a contract station and that we would like to keep it open and that we would like his help,” she said of Fortenberry. “And we just want to keep this open in our little town. He said he would relay the message and said that he is very concerned. He was very nice and listened to everything that I had to say.
Krivanek said that he hopes others with a vested interest in the area who benefit from the community post office will call U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer and Fortenberry to express their concern, as well.
The icing on top of the figurative frustration cake for Krivanek is the fact that a local man was committed to taking over the day-to-day operation of the post office, which is currently open from 9 a.m. through noon Monday through Friday and then for a few hours on Saturdays.
“I would totally understand if there was no one locally who wanted to take over the job and they (postal service) had to increase pay to have someone do it, but this isn’t the case,” Krivanek said. “This guy is willing to work for the same dollar figure and he could step in right away – it wouldn’t even skip a beat … The state is always making a big hoopla about keeping rural Nebraska going, but you don’t really always see it.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.