Community service

Letter Carrier Heroes

2016 Letter Carrier Heroes of the Year

Letter carriers who saved a girl from a vicious dog attack, stopped and assault and robbery, rescued patrons from house fires, formed special bonds with their customers and used their personal story to help educate others about mental illness and addiction are the 2016 Letter Carrier Heroes of the Year.

Individual letter carriers from California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Michigan and Massachusetts—as well as a group of letter carriers from New York—represent a tiny fraction of the thousands of letter carriers who not only deliver mail and packages to 154 million residents six—and increasingly seven—days a week, but also often assist in situations involving car crashes, household accidents, building fires, crimes or health crises.

NALC honored this year’s heroes at a special luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at noon at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

(Scroll down below for detailed information on each of this year’s heroes.)

Contacts

Press release

Photos

Promotional video

Individual video clip files from the awards ceremony

For broadcasters, via NALC's Hightail cloud account. Updates in progress. YouTube versions will be embedded in the appropriate story below.

Read below for more information.


National Hero of the Year: Mark Pizzo of Rock Hill, SC Branch 1003

It started out as a normal workday. On Nov. 30, 2015, Rock Hill, SC Branch 1003 member Mark Pizzo was delivering mail as usual and pulled up to the last part of his route on a cul-de-sac.

“Every day I see a group of kids playing,” he said. “That day, there was a dog with them,” a neighbor’s pit bull.

He then saw the kids run between two houses, and Pizzo kept going on his route. “I could see between the houses, and at that point, I saw the dog jump up at the girl,” he said.

Pizzo told WSOC-TV, “I thought it was playing with her…but then it knocked her down.”

He decided he needed to take action. First, he whistled over at the dog. “When I yelled out of my truck, nothing happened,” Pizzo told WBTV-TV. “Then I heard her scream. The scream I will never forget for as long as I live.”

The carrier then ran toward the girl, 7-year-old Kayden White, whose head was gripped in the jaws of the dog as it was dragging her under a trampoline and was covered in blood. “It had her by the top of her head, by her braids,” Pizzo told WSOC. “So it was like a rope toy. It was pulling at her head and she was screaming.”

Once he was at the scene, Pizzo tried to grab the dog by its muzzle, but it wouldn’t let go of White. “The dog had started to pull the child away from me, so I knew the dog didn’t want to let go,” Pizzo told The Charlotte Observer. “At that point, I struck the dog until it let go of her.” He punched the dog at least four or five times, he said, before the pit bull finally relinquished its hold.

Then, the dog shifted its attention briefly toward the carrier. “I was hoping that was going to happen,” Pizzo told the newspaper.

Pizzo threw White onto the trampoline to try to move her out of harm’s way. But the pit bull wasn’t done. “The dog jumped up on the trampoline to go after her again,” Pizzo told the Observer.

A neighbor who had heard the commotion joined to help the carrier get the dog under control and also was bitten.

Pizzo grabbed the child and took off running, somehow making it away without sustaining an injury to himself. “I had blood down my shorts, on my face,” Pizzo said. “You would have thought I was half-dead with the amount of blood I had on me from the little girl.”

White’s brother arrived after hearing the ruckus and took her home, and police soon arrived on the scene. The youngster was taken to the hospital, where she received seven staples in her head. The dog was picked up by animal control and was euthanized.

White’s mother, Shaquitta, told WSOC how grateful she was for Pizzo’s actions.

“If this man, this man of God, was not there, my daughter would not be here,” she said. “I’ve seen stories that kids die every day, from a pit bull, and she’s alive. She’s here with me now.”

But the 11-year postal veteran doesn’t think he’s a hero. “Some people say I saved her life, but do I know that? I stopped the situation from what was happening. That’s all that mattered to me,” Pizzo told the Observer. “I’ve been bit before; I’m a mailman. It’s part of the job.”

Pizzo has received a lot of media attention because of his actions, including in newspapers and on local TV news broadcasts, and he even was featured on the “Steve Harvey Show.”

“The spotlight’s not for me,” he said. “I like to do my job and fly under the radar.”

Well, unfortunately for Pizzo, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. In naming the carrier NALC’s 2016 National Hero of the Year, judges described Pizzo’s persistence in the face of danger. “He took action immediately, no second thoughts,” they said. “It must have been terrifying to hear someone so in need.”

The carrier summed up his actions simply: “I did what I thought was right,” Pizzo said. “I would hope that everyone would do that.”

In his own words (MP3)

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Snellville mailman Mark Pizzo honored for saving girl from dog attack (Gwinnett Daily Post)

Alert carrier rescues girl from vicious dog (original story in The Postal Record)

Humanitarian of the Year: Brad Gentz of Mason City, IA Branch 471

Out on his route, Mason City, IA Branch 471 carrier Brad Gentz had seen a boy sitting in his front yard under a tree, in a wheelchair, on sunny days. Gentz didn’t know the boy’s name. But one such day last summer, an idea popped into Gentz’s mind that would change both of their lives.

An avid runner, Gentz had watched a television documentary about a father who runs in marathons while pushing his son in a wheelchair. “I thought about that boy who sits outside,” he said. “The very next day, I delivered the mail and there’s Ryan at the mailbox.”

Ryan Hemman, he soon learned, was a teenager with spina bifida who was paralyzed from the waist down and who rarely went anywhere beyond school, home or the hospital. Spina bifida happens while a baby is in the womb and the spinal column does not close all of the way, usually causing paralysis and other severe health problems.

Gentz approached Hemann’s parents with an idea: Could he push Ryan in a marathon?

They boy’s mother, Tami Hemann, was skeptical because of Ryan’s heavy motorized wheelchair and fragile condition, but Gentz had done his research. He showed Ryan and his mother a picture of a custom-built adaptive running wheelchair, and his mother was convinced.

All they needed was $7,500 for the chair.

Gentz reached out to friends and family to raise the funds through a Facebook page called “Running with Ryan.”

Students at Osage High School, where everyone knew of Ryan but few knew him as a friend, supported his cause.
At a volleyball game, the Osage High girls’ volleyball team invited Ryan to speak about his quest to run with Gentz.

Ryan, shy and not used to attention, read his speech and received a standing ovation. Then the letter carrier surprised the teen and the crowd with the new chair. Donations, it turned out, had come in fast, and the chair company, Adaptive Star, had rushed the order.

Gentz strapped Ryan in and pushed him through the school. A crowd of supporters lined their path. With a police escort, they left the school grounds and ran the mile to Ryan’s house.

A few days later, Gentz and Ryan participated in a 5K race that raised funds for University of Iowa Children Hospital, where Ryan had undergone 17 surgeries. Fellow runners and spectators responded with enthusiastic support.

“I was so, so surprised at how many runners and how many people were at the finish line supporting me,” Ryan said.

“It means everything to us,” Ryan’s mother said. “We never expected him to be able to do anything like that.”

The pair has since run in other races and plans to run in more. But running isn’t really the point, of course. A shy young man who once had few friends is now a celebrity in his town and has many supportive friends in his school, and a dedicated letter carrier has shown his community what inclusion of people with disabilities is all about—and has also formed a deep bond with the quiet kid sitting under a tree on his route.

“He went from being this little boy in a wheelchair,” Gentz said, “and now, anywhere he goes, he’s like a rock star. It’s changed his life dramatically.

“It’s changed me, too,” he said. “The friendship I have with Ryan is second to none.

“I just wanted to share what I love to do with this boy. I wasn’t even looking to become his friend. It was never even part of the plan. And now it’s my life.” Gentz added. “I never in a million years thought doing one little nice deed would come back to me this way. I can say without a shadow of a doubt my one little gesture for another became a pot of gold.”

In naming Gentz NALC’s Humanitarian of the Year, the Heroes of the Year judges said, “This was an awesome display of compassion and courage for a worthy cause. He changed this young man’s life.”

Gentz and Ryan plan to be back in Washington, DC, a month after the Heroes of the Year ceremony to run the Marine Corps Marathon together.

In his own words (MP3)

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Iowa letter carrier goes running with Ryan (original story in The Postal Record)

North Iowa Mail Carrier Receives National Humanitarian Award (KAAL-TV)

Iowa mailman honored for helping teen in wheelchair feel the joy of running (Des Moines Register)

Osage mail carrier to receive national humanitarian award (Mason City, IA’s Globe Gazette; Mitchell County Press)  

Eastern Region Hero: Lars Edleblute of York, PA Branch 509

Loading up his vehicle at the post office in pouring rain on Dec. 1, 2015, York, PA Branch 509 member Lars Edleblute suddenly heard a woman yelling while she ran toward a highway. “I wasn’t sure why,” he said. “I was wondering what’s happening.”

The city carrier assistant scanned the area. He spotted a small child first climb over a fence separating the
neighborhood where the post office was from a busy four-lane highway, and then dart across the roadway.

“I saw him jump the fence and I panicked,” Edleblute said.

The woman stood in place and was frantically crying on the phone with a 911 operator. But Edleblute went into
action and followed after the 8-year-old boy. “My fatherly instincts jumped in,” the carrier said. “I just ran up the
hill and jumped over the fence.”

Once he was on the other side, Edleblute saw that the youngster had made it to the middle of the busy highway,
with traffic going in both directions. “It was pouring rain and no one was slowing down or stopping,” Edleblute said.

The carrier waited for a break in the traffic and then darted to the middle of the road. By the time he reached
there, the boy had made it to the other side and was now running along the side of the highway toward the next exit.

When Edleblute finally caught up to the boy, he grabbed a harness that was attached to him, put his arm around him and held his hand. “He didn’t say much, except, ‘I just want to go to church,’ ” the carrier said. He told the child, “It’s OK; we are going on an adventure.”

The boy was mumbling, so Edleblute tried to keep him calm. (He later found out that the boy is autistic.)

Eventually, a passerby came to help. They safely escorted the boy across the highway and back to his mother, who had stayed behind the fence. She was thankful when they put the boy over the fence and returned him safely to her care.

The second-year letter carrier doesn’t think he did anything out of the ordinary, though. “I just feel like I did my job,” Edleblute said. “I was just happy I was there to save the boy.”

The Heroes of the Year judges disagreed. “He really stabilized the situation by getting to the child,” they said, “and he kept his cool and kept his wits about him in an unpredictable situation.”

Edleblute said he’s not used to media attention, but that he wouldn’t change anything about his actions if he could. “I’m very proud of what I did,” he said. “I was just doing my job and trying to keep people safe, that’s all.”

In his own words (MP3)

Click here to download this story.

Beyond the call of duty to help a young patron (original story in The Postal Record)

Local letter carrier honored for saving life of 8-year-old boy with autism (WPMT-TV)

Local letter carrier honored for saving boy (York Daily Record)

Central Region Hero: Michael Murphy of Hazelwood, MO Branch 5847

A little girl screaming, “Someone help my mommy!” alerted Hazelwood, MO Branch 5847 member Michael Murphy as he walked out of a bread company after delivering its mail on Oct. 28, 2014.

“I wasn’t sure what was going on,” he said. He noticed two people on cell phones talking to police, and then he saw a man acting strangely.

“He was going back and forth, grabbing car doors,” Murphy said. The carrier watched from his LLV to try to fully grasp the situation. He found out that the man had attacked the girl’s mother’s van, hitting it and apparently trying to snatch her purse.

The man walked out of Murphy’s sight, then reappeared. “He had some type of cinderblock or brick in his hand,” Murphy said. As an SUV pulled up, the man started hitting one of its windows, though it didn’t break.

There were three women inside the SUV; one woman fell to the ground from the passenger’s side as she tried to flee the attacker. The driver came around to try to help her, and was herself attacked by the man.

“He swung, attempted to hit her and missed,” the carrier said. “He was yelling, cussing and trying to carjack them. He really frightened them.”

Bakery employees started coming out of the store to see what the commotion was.

Then, the man “raised the brick to hit the lady on the ground,” Murphy said, and that’s when the carrier knew he needed to jump into action. He ran across the street.

Murphy, a 27-year member of the Marine Corps and the Navy Reserves, said, “I then grabbed him by his arm and picked him up by his legs and slammed him to the ground.”

Once down, “we tussled for a little bit,” the carrier said. A passerby helped Murphy turn the attacker on his stomach, face-down.

“I secured him and held him down until police came,” the carrier said, adding, “It all happened so fast.”

Police put handcuffs on the man and thanked Murphy for his help. An officer later told Murphy that the man had a record as a repeat violent offender.

Murphy said his military training helped in the situation. “It was a natural thing for me,” he said. “All I’ve known is service and sacrifice. We run toward the fight, not away
from it. I was just doing what I was trained to do.”

Judges cited Murphy’s courage when naming him the 2016 Central Region Hero of the Year. “There’s a whole lot that makes this guy a hero,” they said. “He knew these people were human and needed help, and he put himself in imminent danger.”

The 18-year postal veteran says that receiving this honor is “humbling,” but he doesn’t think of himself as a hero.

“When I saw this, I just thought about my mom and sister,” Murphy said. “If you are conscious and mindful, then you help someone.”

In his own words (MP3)

Click here to download this story.

Criminals shouldn’t mess with this carrier (original story in The Postal Record)

Florissant letter carrier to get hero award for stopping attacker wielding a cinder block (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Local mail carrier honored for stopping attacker wielding cinder block (KTVI-TV)

Western Region Hero: David Crestik of San Diego, CA Branch 70

“I heard a beeping sound and thought, ‘What the heck is that?’ ” San Diego Branch 70 member David Crestik recalled. It was on Saturday, July 12, 2014, and he was delivering mail on the last part of his swing, at a retirement mobile home park. No one was around.

The carrier then noticed dark smoke coming out of a screen door from a nearby mobile home and quickly went
over. “I couldn’t see, but yelled in, ‘Anyone in here?’ ” Crestik said.

He then heard his elderly customer, Sharon Branden, respond that she was on the floor and also had cut herself.

“Once I heard her voice, that was it,” Crestik said. “I went inside, and I kept calling her.”

There was thick smoke everywhere and the flames were concentrated in the dining room. “The fire was going pretty good,” he said. “The dining room table was on fire; [so were] the chairs.”

He found Branden lying on the ground by the back bedroom. Crestik asked the woman if she was able to walk, and she said no. So he started to lift Branden from the floor, but she fell back down again.

Crestik wouldn’t give up. “I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder and went to the neighbor’s house,” he said. The carrier then called 911 and waited for firefighters and paramedics to arrive. Once they responded, he explained to them what had happened.

When the carrier knew Branden was in good hands, he continued on with his route. The woman’s home was destroyed, but Branden was doing all right after being treated for smoke inhalation.

Crestik has received a lot of media attention as a result of his actions, later receiving a plaque from the mayor, who also declared a day in his honor. “That was pretty amazing,” the carrier said, but added, “I just take it in stride.”

In selecting Crestik as the NALC’s Western Region Hero of the Year, judges commended the carrier’s situational awareness. “He placed himself in incredible danger and put his life second to others,” they said. “A house can be rebuilt—a life cannot.”

The carrier doesn’t think he’s a hero, though; he said it was just fortunate timing. “God blessed me and called upon me,” the 21-year postal veteran said. “He put me there at the right time. If I hadn’t gone in there, she probably would have perished.”

In his own words (MP3)

Click here to download this story.

Carrier saves patron in the midst of blaze (original story in The Postal Record)

San Diego Letter Carrier Honored for Bravery on the Job (KNSD-TV)

Carrier Alert Award: Evangeline Johnson of Detroit Branch 1

Evangeline Johnson was delivering the mail on a warm May morning when she saw smoke coming from a patron’s house. She went to the back yard to investigate and discovered that the back of the house was engulfed in flames.

“I knew someone lived there and I ran to the front door to alert anyone who might be inside,” Johnson said. “A woman answered the door and ran to grab her child. They had been sleeping.” Both escaped.

Johnson called 911 and firefighters soon arrived and extinguished the blaze. The firefighters said the family had been lucky that Johnson was able to wake up the family before the fire spread throughout the home.

Her heroic actions led the judges to name her the Carrier Alert Hero of the Year.

Johnson said she was glad to be at the right place at the right time. She had chosen to deliver on that street first thing in the morning because it had little shade and the air was still cool in the morning.

When she first noticed the smoke, she thought, “Who is barbecuing this early in the morning?”

But she doesn’t feel like a hero. “I always help people on my route,” Johnson said. The hero award is “a bit
overwhelming, because I think anyone would do the same thing.”

That morning, the Heroes of the Year judges said, Johnson demonstrated “the four C’s of being a letter carrier—carrier, cool, calm, collected.

“She did something that saved an entire family,” they said.

In her own words (MP3)

Click here to download this story.

Carrier helps customers narrowly escape fire (original story in The Postal Record)

Education Award: Patrick Byrne of Lynn, MA Branch 7

James Byrne lived a fairly normal life in many ways.

The son of Lynn, MA Branch 7 President Patrick Byrne, James had a good upbringing and strong family ties. He had a master’s degree in computer science and made a good living in information technology.

But throughout his adult life, James had been hooked on heroin, a drug easily found on Lynn’s post-industrial streets. James had periods of sobriety, but circumstances always seemed to steal them from him, eventually.

James had enjoyed seven months clean of drugs when an old friend and fellow addict called him one January day in 2014 to beg James to find heroin. After first refusing, James gave in and bought some for the friend, and apparently couldn’t resist using it himself instead. The friend called James on his cell phone over and over, trying to plan a meeting to get the heroin, as James lay dying of an overdose—on the floor of his sister’s house, just down the street from his father’s home. That’s where Patrick found him.

When his son died, Patrick Byrne already had an understanding of the immense difficulties of dealing with chemical dependency. James had struggled with it for two decades, and since retiring from the Postal Service in 2006, Patrick has counseled homeless people in Lynn, many with substance-abuse problems and the mental illness that often comes with them.

The death of his son put the issue in sharp focus, Byrne said, as did the reaction of scores of letter carriers from his own branch and across the country who contacted him about their own family members with chemical dependency after reading about James in The Postal Record. “They fought this problem while trying to protect their privacy,” he said, “a choice that they now regret.

“We felt confident that his upbringing was solid,” he said, but James is proof that parents aren’t to blame for drug addiction. “Good parents have kids who have problems,” Byrne added. “Parents feel that a child’s activity is a reflection on them.” But parental shame only makes things worse if it prevents them from seeking help, he said. “You’ve got to break that.”

After making his story public, Byrne heard from many other letter carriers about their own struggles with addiction, depression or mental illness in their families. “I was shocked at how many people are dealing with similar problems,” he said.

Inspired by Byrne’s experience and his efforts to educate fellow carriers and the broader public about the need to remove the stigma of addiction, the Postal Service’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) launched the “Silent No More” initiative. The program is designed to help postal employees or their families break through the stigma and shame—whether by helping with suicide prevention, mental illness or chemical dependency—and to share personal stories.

Silent No More urges postal employees to share their experiences with a mental health issue—their own or a family member’s—for which they received help from the EAP. Stories from those who wish they had sought help, or who regret not seeking help sooner, are also welcome.

All communication with the EAP remains confidential and sharing stories is strictly voluntary and separate from EAP assistance or counseling.

The Heroes of the Year judges praised Byrne for helping to turn a personal tragedy into help for other postal workers who need help for substance abuse or suicidal thoughts, but who often suffer in silence.

Byrne said the experience of sharing his story is done as a service to others, much like the way he serves those struggling in his own community, but it’s not part of dealing with his grief. “It isn’t a healing process,” he said—healing requires far more, if it’s even possible. “But you might as well do what you can to help other people.

“I never considered what I had done to be heroic,” Byrne said. Nevertheless, he’s happy that the award is leading to renewed awareness of the Silent No More campaign and of the problems of suicide and addiction.

In naming Byrne the Education Award winner, the judges said they were “impressed that someone could transform a personal tragedy into a mission to help countless people. Awareness, prevention and education are so important to solving problems like these.”

In his own words (MP3)

Click here to download this story.

Silent no more (original story in The Postal Record)

In a speech on the Senate floor on Sept. 22, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) spoke about NALC's 2016 Education Award honoree Patrick Byrne of Lynn, MA Branch 7. (YouTube)

Lynn advocate earns national honor (Lynn Daily Item)

Branch Service Award: Syracuse, NY Branch 134

Mathew Watkins, age 17, always greeted the letter carriers from Syracuse, NY Branch 134 who came to his house. He even liked to go to his local post office and watch LLVs arrive at the end of the day, counting them to assure himself that all carriers arrived safely back from their routes.

Carriers nicknamed him “Mathew the Mailman” because he told them he wanted to be a postal employee someday.

Then one day, Watkins stopped appearing at his door, and a postal employee who knew his family got wind that he was in the hospital, being treated for acute lymphomatic leukemia, or cancer of the blood—the most common childhood cancer.

The treatment lasted several months, and eventually Watkins came home, in a wheelchair, to continue his recovery. To give him a special welcome home, postal employees from the Bayberry office in nearby Liverpool, NY—including carriers from Branch 134—joined with local firefighters and police officers in February to launch a parade of various vehicles past Watkins’ house. But it was the LLVs that really thrilled him.

“Everyone got together,” said Thomas Dlugolenski, executive vice president of Branch 134 and steward at the Bayberry station. “The entire office drove by his house.”

The local postmaster gave Watkins his own letter carrier uniform, and Branch President Jim Lostumbo declared Watkins an honorary Branch 134 member. The young man and his family were elated by the show of support.

The parade brought out the whole neighborhood, including other children, to watch and show their support for Watkins, bringing joy not only to the boy, but to the entire community.

“Matthew is a special-needs guy who has a love for people, which is what I think attracts him most to mail carriers,” Mathew’s mother, Jennifer Watkins, wrote in a letter to the branch. “He loves to meet the mail carrier at the door, obtain and distribute the family mail, point out mail trucks in the neighborhood and visit the branch in Bayberry to count the mail trucks.”

On the day of the parade, she said, “each postal worker that passed by in their vehicle did so with a smile and a wave. It was truly an unforgettable homecoming.”

“This act extended beyond one morning,” she added. “Matthew proceeded to receive letters, cards and packages. Many of those items were received from NALC members countrywide.”

In selecting Branch 134 for the Branch Service Award, “this speaks so well of the branch to have concern for the young man, and also pride in their work,” the Heroes of the Year judges said. “They have a great sense of community engagement. This epitomizes what a postal worker is and what they do.”

In their own words: Branch 134 Vice President Thomas Dlugolenski | Watkins’ letter carrier Colleen Maiorano

Click here to download this story.

A surprise postal parade for New York boy (original story in The Postal Record)

CNY letter carriers who cheered up Clay teen with cancer receive national honors today (Syracuse Post-Standard)