Rediscovering Happy Valley: 'Mike the Mailman'
Nearly everyone has a favorite story about Mike Herr, better known as "Mike the Mailman" around Penn State.
For generations, he's managed the University Park post office.
Here's my favorite story about Mike.
I stopped into the post office, located across from the HUB-Robeson Center, in January to mail some Turkish-flavored taffy to a friend at Louisiana State University. She and I originally met in Bloomington, Ind., when we were both earning our master's degrees at Indiana University.
Since she's from Turkey, I thought she'd get a kick out of the taffy, which I found at Gardners Candies around Christmas. (Quick side note: I should devote a future column to the craziness of finding Turkish-flavored taffy inside a small candy store in the middle of Pennsylvania, but that's a story for another day.)
Anyway, when I entered the post office, it was like I walked into one of those dreams you have all the time as a kid. All of Mike's mementos, photos and knickknacks adorned the walls, and it was nice to know that after moving away for four years, some things at Penn State hadn't changed.
A girl at the counter handed Mike a parcel, and after inspecting it for a second, he gave a smile and said, "H and B," meaning "hi and bye," since nothing else needed to be done. He turned around, placed the box in a bin and another happy customer left the post office.
Mike and I chatted for a few minutes, and I told him I had recently moved back to the area. I also mentioned finding the taffy and mailing it to my friend, Zeynep. Although I wasn't sure if he remembered me from when we initially met years ago, it was good to catch up with Mike.
This story seems pretty ordinary, but it's special for me because it's the first time I had stopped by the University Park post office since moving home last fall. Mike and I have chatted more than a dozen times since that initial conversation, and I last stopped in the other week when I mailed a letter to Sue Paterno.
This caused Mike to remember a conversation he once shared with John Black, the long-time writer of the Penn State Alumni Association's The Football Letter, and Joe and Sue Paterno. I obviously wasn't there when the discussion took place, but hearing Mike recall the story seemed almost as good.
The Penn State men's ice hockey team had an open midnight practice last year at Pegula Ice Arena, and I was there. It was pretty exciting, seeing the rink light up as the Nittany Lions and coach Guy Gadowsky interacted with the fans and gave everyone a preview. As I was standing on the concourse, I saw Mike, decked out in a hockey jersey, make his way up the steps of the student section to get a better view.
Mike seemed just as excited at that moment as every student was a few weeks later on opening night, and it made me smile, seeing someone who's lived here his entire life who still seems to be enjoying himself and everything Penn State has to offer.
Some people make any event more special and memorable by his or her mere presence. Mike is one of these people. He has the patience of a saint and the demeanor of a soft-spoken rock star, if such a juxtaposition exists.
Mike often wonders why so many people make such a big deal out of him. My take? It's because in a world where everyone feels compelled to update Twitter every 20 minutes and post every event of his or her life on Instagram, he doesn't have a personal email account or Facebook page.
He doesn't post his status online. Instead, Mike greets everyone who enters the post office with the same courtesy and graciousness. It turns out that stuff still matters to some people.
Thousands of students new to State College have credited Mike for making Penn State seem a little more comforting after moving away from home for the first time.
I never had to make this adjustment, as I grew up about 15 minutes away from the University Park campus. I could never relate to that experience, of walking into the post office and having Mike make you feel like Penn State is your home because Penn State has been my home for as long as I can remember.
This was true until that moment I walked into the post office in January with some Turkish-flavored taffy. Mike managed to make me feel at ease in a place I've always lived, and he did it by being himself, by making a joke and making me feel like I hadn't ever left.