By Dan Hust
WOODRIDGE Doug Cauthers knows just about everyone in Woodridge by their first names.
And they him.
“My kids would always write on their envelopes to me, ‘Hi Doug!’” Gloria Kantrowitz recalled.
That’s because they knew Doug would be handing their mail over to their mother.
Long before he logged 50 years as Woodridge’s beloved postal clerk, Cauthers had become the village’s icon, a gentle, modest man who seemed to know just about everything and everyone.
“You needed something, you asked Doug,” Candy Weigand explained.
She’s known him all her life and had the privilege of working alongside him in the Woodridge Post Office for the past 22 years.
Last Friday, Doug Cauthers retired from a job he’s held since 1961 (longer if you count temporary summer work): distribution and window clerk.
Thousands of Woodridge residents and visitors first met him inside that Broadway post office, where he delivered both the mail and a warm greetingoften followed by the latest news.
On Friday, that legacy manifested in comments scribbled on posterboard in the lobby:
“I cannot remember a day without you here.”
“Your shoes won’t be filled for a thousand years.”
“Boy, will you be missed.”
And perhaps the cleverest of them all: “You are the ‘1’ in 12789 [Woodridge’s ZIP code].”
“It’s like having a friend leave,” affirmed Gloria Kantrowitz. “He’s a gem, and it won’t be the same without him.”
Indeed, he’s irreplaceableliterally. Woodridge Post Office’s officer-in-charge, Lori Stehlin, confirmed that postal officials don’t plan on hiring a successor.
For the higher-ups, that’s about cost-savings. For Stehlin, though, it’s a fitting tribute to a man she’s come to admire after a short time working together.
“I liked him from the minute I met him,” she affirmed. “He’s just a great guy, dependable, caring. There won’t be too many like him [coming in] behind him.”
Doug spent most of Friday hugging one postal patron after another. Despite the momentous nature of the occasion, he remained relaxed, albeit filled with memories.
“I’ve known these people all my life,” he pointed out, “and that’s grown into good friendships.”
That’s what has kept him returning to work for more than half a centurythat and a good constitution. He’s racked up 5,000 hours in unused sick time over his career, one of the highest amounts in the nation.
But what first attracted the Woodridge native to the job was his dad.
“My father, Harold, worked here, too,” he recalled. “He had 47 years here.”
Father and son spent 10 years together in the post office1961-1971before Harold retired.
Doug continued on for 40 more years, never regretting it.
“It was a good, steady, solid job,” he remarked between hugs. “It became like a family.”
Indeed, he intimately knew the lives of local residents through periods of joy and worryand not just as a postal clerk, but as a member of both the Woodridge Fire Department and Methodist Church, plus caretaker and board president of the Glen Wild Cemetery Association.
“I remember a couple of times a family had a child in Vietnam, in a bad spot there,” he related, briefly displaying a rare moment of emotion. “Finally a letter would come in [from that child], and I would deliver it.”
Doug served under four postmasters but never became one himself, though he twice served as the officer-in-charge (who supervises a post office when there is no postmaster).
The Fallsburg Central School/Woodridge High School grad did earn two college degrees before he joined the postal system: an associate’s from Orange County Community College and a bachelor’s from Hartwick College in Oneonta, both in business administration.
But he always planned to return to his hometown, which in those days was a bustling hub, thanks to nearby resorts.
Still, change was at hand, starting with the demise of the O&W Railway in 1957, which ran through the heart of Woodridge’s downtown.
Farms and hotels disappeared more slowly in the following decades, and those residents that remained relied for their income upon smaller businesses or the state, in the form of non-profit treatment centers and nearby prisons.
Through it all, Doug remained a comforting constant, but even behind his desk, times were changing.
“We used to hand-sort all outgoing mail, set postage meters, handle bulk mailings,” he recalled.
Four full-timers, plus substitutes and seasonal workers, ran the post office. Mail came in and went out four times a day.
Now that happens just once a day, and new technologies and procedures have reduced the staff size accordingly.
Doug isn’t a fan of all the recent gadgets and policies, noting it takes longerand costs more moneyto get a piece of mail from point to point.
Indeed, yet another equipment “upgrade” was what finally pushed him into retirement.
“The final straw was these new machines that were brought in, which is a totally different system from what we used,” he said. “They wanted me to go to another office to train.”
Despite his unhappiness with the struggling postal system, Doug hopes it remains intact.
“It is certainly necessary,” he remarked.
He’ll help keep it necessary, as he eschews e-mail in favor of regular mail.
And he’ll certainly be a regular figure at the Woodridge Post Officejust on the other side of the counter.
“We’re going to miss him,” acknowledges Doug’s coworker, Candy, “but I know we’ll see him.”
True enough. For the first time in 50 years, Doug Cauthers finally has a postal box: number 382.