On her last day on the job, Ellen Nelson drove through the winding streets of the Homestead Farm neighborhood of Centennial, delivering mail in the cold fall air just like she had done for nearly three decades.
But as she neared the end of her …
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But as she neared the end of her route Oct. 27, she saw dozens of neighbors filing toward her on the sidewalk, bearing gifts, smiles and gratitude most mail carriers never see.
Residents said, “I love yous,” kids hugged her goodbye and even one young Saint Bernard came along with its owner to bid Nelson farewell. The retiring mail carrier is a dog lover, neighbors said — but she is a consummate people lover, too.
“She'd always figure out when kids are going to graduate and write them cards,” said Kathy Conrad, a 53-year-old resident of the neighborhood. Conrad's three boys all got cards from Nelson as they graduated from high school.
Chris and Kari Graham recalled how Nelson, 64, helped them through “the most difficult time of our life.
“We have exchanged Christmas gifts and cards for several years,” the Grahams said. “When our son Noah died, Ellen shared a poem with me that was important to her when she lost her grandmother, a poem about 'The Dragonfly.' (We) appreciate her quiet support.”
Going the extra mile, as neighbor Yolanda Bryant put it, was an everyday lifestyle for Nelson, who started as a United States Postal Service mail carrier 27 years ago, serving rural routes in the Golden area. Soon after she began working, the carrier who served Homestead Farm died, and Nelson was sent out to cover the route for three weeks before someone with more seniority took over.
“I said, if I can ever get enough seniority to get that route,” Nelson said wistfully. “This is just such a special place to work.”
The daughter of a mail carrier herself, Nelson's father kept telling her to take the test and follow in his career path.
“I tried other things, and then I realized he was right,” Nelson said. She worked her way up until she could finally get assigned to the Homestead Farm route, and she served it for 14 years.
“Some carriers, they won't let (the people) in,” Nelson said. “But oh my gosh, that's the best part of the job. The people.”
Nelson lives in Centennial with her dog and cat — her couple of “four-legged critters” — but the people of Homestead Farm became her family, inviting her to family picnics, sending her family pictures and letting her into their lives.
She once heard that someone's son said to his father, “You live in a bubble. There's no other neighborhood like that, where people watch out for each other and it's safe and it's just nice.”
“And it was — it was like driving into a bubble to work out here,” said Nelson, who said there are Republicans, Democrats and people of many ethnicities in the neighborhood.
And the people in this small, idyllic neighborhood won't forget her any time soon.
She was “always friendly. Always helpful, to the point that I feel we stretched her a little thin sometimes with our mail-delivery needs,” said Steve Burkett, 70. She “had a great relationship with an elderly neighbor that we had in the past. She would come after hours and talk with her and walk with her. When the neighbor moved away to another state, Ellen tried to check on her with the nursing home where she was staying.”
Azar Hojabr, 37, remembers how Nelson made an impression the first day they moved to the area.
“She welcomed us very warmly, and she had such an effect on us that I told my husband this must be an amazing neighborhood (that) even the mail lady is so loving and respected,” Hojabr said, adding Nelson made her feel at home. “I always enjoyed watching her work so diligently with such care for everyone's mail. I am truly sad she'll be retiring and I won't get to see her every day.”
Bryant, who organized the surprise celebration for Nelson, met her 10 years ago and discovered hers was the last house on Nelson's delivery route.
“She always had time to chat,” Bryant, 58, said. “I thought it was because we were her last stop. I later learned she gave the same time and attention to anyone that wanted to share some news.”
Bryant and other neighbors worked together to raise more than $1,000 in gift cards — to restaurants, movie theaters and more — and they put together the surprise in less than a week.
“I got pretty attached to these people,” Nelson said. She now plans to restore a four-generation family ranch, which her great-great-grandfather built in southwest Colorado in 1888 after immigrating from Sweden.
But she'll stay in touch — she plans to come visit and walk the neighborhood's dogs.
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