Orval and Gerta Palmer have hosted and operated the Alton Post Office Contract Station out of their own home since 1976. Now, after 46 years, they’ve decided in Orval’s words, that they’re, “just not up to shoveling all that snow to clear the walkway anymore.” Of course, there’s more to running a post office than that, as Orval - who, over the course of running the post, has had knee replacements, shoulder replacements, hip surgery and survived a bout with cancer - can attest.
Left to right:
Orval and Gerta Palmer, still running the post office after 46 years, are retiring at the end of 2023. Photo by Ty Gant.
This oil painting depicting the Palmers’ home and post office as of 2008 was painted by a Palmer family member. Photo by Ty Gant.
Back in the day, Orval ran the post office as a second job - his first was being a cowboy. Photo courtesy of Orval Palmer.
“When I first started,” says Orval, “the man from Provo came down and said he’d spoken to every other person in town. He was offering $100 a month for three hours a day. He told me, ‘I guess everyone in Alton will have to go to Glendale for their mail,’ and I said, ‘No they won’t, dump it right here and I’ll sort it and tell them to come and get it.’” Since then, the Palmers have been responsible for the mail through Alton, running the post through their own home as they’ve moved from house to house in Alton, even hosting the office in a woodshed in their backyard for a stint. Before too long they were able to move into the previous postmaster’s home, meaning that with a short exception in the late 70s, that home has been the Post Office for over 70 years, with Orval testifying, “that was where it was when I was in high school, so I figured I’d better keep it there.”
The Palmers raised a family in that home, with all of the interesting encounters to go with it. Says Gerta, “It was a delight! We always had someone to meet, someone to help.”
According to Orval, helping folks and doing right by the neighborhood has always been somewhat of a family mission statement: “if you want to feel good, do something to help someone. If you want to feel happy, help somebody.” When asked for highlights over the course of his long career as Postmaster, Orval had a response in a heartbeat: “I had one today! A family that moved into town a few years ago has their mailbox set up, and the mother came in and spoke to me about picking up a package. I told her I was thinking of leaving, and she told me she was grateful she didn’t have to go to Glendale for her mail all these years … it’s when people sincerely say ‘thank you’ that I’m reminded why I do this.”
The Palmers have hosted dignitaries in their home at moments when “people around the country were talking about Alton,” assisted with emergency water sampling expeditions and witnessed shifts in local industry and been featured in National Geographic. The message that Orval Palmer sent with the Southern Utah News reporter was this: “Whatever you can do at that paper of yours, let people know that the public of Southern Utah insist that the post office doesn’t leave Alton.”
While contingencies have been made to shift Alton’s mail services to Glendale’s infrastructure, there are locals who are willing to take up the mantle of Postmaster and do just as Mr. Palmer insists: keep the Post Office Contract Station in Alton, Utah. Applications from these individuals are processing now, and the Palmers’ contract finishes at the end of 2023. There is precedent for a short transition - it is possible that postal services in Glendale may host Alton’s mail for the period necessary to process the transition to a new Postmaster in Alton, assuming that one has an application accepted by the offices in Salt Lake City.
On the concluding note of the Palmers’ interview, they brought out the post office’s guestbook for the visiting reporter to sign. The Palmers have four such guestbooks full of visitors, another highlight of the career for the two of them. Orval shared a story of one of his favorite guest’s signatures, that of a family of Dutch immigrants he met in Canada on his Latter-day Saint mission - the son of the couple he’d taught in the early 70s, who had come to visit Alton Postmaster Orval Palmer retires at 91, after 46 years of running the post office Utah to be ordained as a president of a church mission of his own.
“We’ve been praying that the Post Office can stay right here in Alton,” says Gerta. Orval concluded, “Tell the people in Salt Lake, put it on your headline if you have to, Alton’s Post Office had better stay in Alton!”