This familiarity made Leonard Kemp into somewhat of a local hero when he helped two elderly homeowners out of serious situations.
According to resident John Albini, “Lenny” is a throwback to the old-school days of postal carriers.
“He takes the time to get to know the residents he serves and keeps his eyes open to the goings-on in our neighborhood,” said Albini.
Kemp said he keeps track of when customers are out of town, checking on their homes for them.
“His astute awareness of the residents has paid off,” said Sandy Albini.
More than a decade ago, Kemp helped save the late “Mr. Olsen,” a 94-year-old homeowner, when the letter carrier noticed the meticulous nonagenarian had not picked up his newspapers at the usual time.
Kemp called Olsen’s son, who entered the house with paramedics and found his dad on the floor. The elder Olsen survived and lived to be 103, according to Kemp.
Recently, Kemp made his second save. When octogenarian Fred Wilkens neglected to pick up his mail, Kemp knocked on the front door. After getting no answer for two days, Kemp alerted a neighbor, who was able to squeeze through a small window. They discovered Wilkens on the floor. Although Wilkens made it successfully to the hospital, he later succumbed to pneumonia in a convalescent home.
Kemp, 54, has been at his job 24 years, starting his work for the post office on Feb. 29, 1988. He’s had his current route in Crown Point for 21 years and said he hopes to work until he’s 62.
The divorced father of an adult son certainly appears fit from walking four to five miles a day, five days a week. Recent knee surgery and a bad back haven’t slowed him down.
“You try to be smarter than the work, to lift right, organize and ask for help when you need it,” Kemp said.
His eight-hour days begin at
7:30 a.m., when he sorts and organizes the mail at the Pacific Beach post office. Then, he parks his postal vehicle along his route, transfers letters, packages and bulk business mail (“We don’t call it junk mail; it keeps us going,”) to a pushcart. He begins his trek to 280 houses at about 10 a.m.
His uniform this time of year includes shorts, a long-sleeve sweatshirt with the 92109 ZIP code across the front, a pith helmet and sturdy shoes.
“Hiya, Lucy,” he called to a familiar black labrador. He said he treats the neighborhood dogs like family, but admitted he keeps his guard up.
“Hi, Theresa,” he said to a patron sitting outside in a wheelchair and smiling at him. Kemp said that’s what makes his job special: “A whole day of smiles when I’m out with my people.”
He said he’s the only person some of his elderly customers see all day.
“If they want to talk, I do,” said Kemp. “I just skip a break or lunch.”
Many of the homeowners on his route have lived in their homes for decades. In the last 55 years, the route has had only two fulltime letter carriers — including him, he said.
Because he knows his customers so well, Kemp said he mourns when the old-timers die. He attends their funerals when he can and has even delivered four eulogies.
Kemp said he also enjoys the children he’s known “from babies to college to having their own kids.”
“This street, known as Jewell, is a real jewel,” Kemp said. “Everyone is so down to earth. They don’t care if you’re a doctor or a mailman.”
Kemp greets Sierra, a parrot who hangs out in a cage in a customer’s front yard. “Are you going to talk today?” Kemp asks.
The parrot doesn’t answer.
“This is my fudge house,” Kemp said, pointing to another home where the customer makes him fudge for his birthdays and holidays.
The job, of course, is not without its dangers. Kemp, who has a rescue dog of his own at home, carries the regulation pepper spray on his waistband. He said he’s been bitten three times, “twice by the same dog with the owner present.”
But on his current route, he’s familiar with the dogs and knows where they are at all times. The dogs, he said, are just doing their jobs.
A recent incident in which an Escondido letter carrier was attacked by a pit bull, had a stroke and died is still fresh in Kemp’s mind.
But he doesn’t dwell on negatives. Kemp said his “people” are the best part of his job and he certainly doesn’t mind working outside by the bay.
Postal customer John Albini had nothing but praise for Kemp.
“While we are all busy rushing around and consumed with our daily rituals, it’s nice to know Lenny will be walking down the street with a broad smile and a caring conversation,” he said.