By Natalie Strom
Walking into the Post Office in Goodland, one can’t help but notice that it isn’t your average Post Office. A mural featuring a mermaid carrying mail and a beautiful garden of flowers greets you as soon as you arrive. Inside, the walls are covered with paintings by local artists and a free book exchange cart is packed with books and magazines. A friendly hello always awaits you by Post Office patrons and employees. This warm, loving feel has been created over the past eight years by Goodland’s Postmaster, Judith Pritchard. Known and loved by all in town, Judith only recently announced that she will be retiring as of July 31.
One of the few Postmasters to serve Goodland, Judith followed in the footsteps of original Postmasters, Bud and Kappy Kirk, followed by their daughter, Tommy D. Taking her place in Goodland’s rich history, Judith came to work at the Post Office in 2002.
“This was always my dream from the day I started,” explains Judith. “To be in an office like this is what I had visualized back in 1985 when I took the test to work with the Postal Service.” Starting in the processing facility, Judith quickly worked her way into management and Post Office auditing. She eventually came to the Naples office where she had “a Postmaster who was the kind of person who helped you find your dreams. He asked me, ‘are you sure you want a small office?’ So with a huge cut in pay, I said yes. Many people often ask why I didn’t move into larger offices once I became a Postmaster and I always say it’s not about the money, it’s about the quality of life. This has just become my family. It’s my second home, obviously. It even looks that way!”
Featuring brightly colored murals, wind chimes and signs of encouragement, Judith truly has turned Goodland’s Post Office into what feels like her home. “When I got here, I looked around and I started making repairs. From working on the road with the Post Office, I got to know people all over the state. So I called and said, ‘we’ve got to get this place painted.’” But Goodland’s Post Office wasn’t scheduled to be painted for another two years. “Well, they knew me, so they said get a can of paint and a brush and go for it. Nobody said it had to be a big can of paint, nobody said it had to be one color and nobody said the brushes had to be rollers. Knowing that this is a town full of artists and creative people, I put some signs up asking for people to display their art on the walls and it just started. It became something everyone wanted to be a part of.”
Over time, the walls inside the Post Office became covered with the works of local artists. Judith has added to it as well, having painted two murals behind the counter and the mermaid mural on the outside of the building. “I encouraged people to sign their work. I can’t sell anything but when a customer comes in and asks about a certain piece, I can say, ‘give me your phone number and I will pass your name along to the artist.’ It’s really been a lot of fun because people often come here to tour the artwork and it has actually increased revenue for the Post Office.”
Judith admits that after building such a unique environment, it will be hard to leave. “Being able to see all my friends and have our conversations and all our laughs will be something I miss the most. We really have a lot of laughs. We don’t have problems here either. I’ve always told people it’s because of two things: I am picky about my work and I have a ‘forcefield’ at the door.” Judith’s ‘forcefield’ keeps people from coming in with a bad attitude. Or maybe it’s just her amiable personality and willingness to help anyone who comes through the door.
Residents of Goodland will certainly miss seeing Judith’s smile on a daily basis. Goodland resident and business owner, Ray Bozicnik agrees. He comes to the Post Office every day for both his home and for The Little Bar Restaurant which he has owned for years. “She’s been a blessing to the community. The Post Office is a meeting and greeting place for us, away from the hustle and bustle of the center of Goodland. It’s an oasis of serene tranquility,” explains Ray. “I think I speak for everyone in town that we have all had our own endearing moments with Judith. She’s made the Post Office a place where we can find a blissful state as we greet our day. She is a joy.”
“I really am going to miss everyone here,” adds Judith. “They’re family.” Which is why she has made it clear that she will visit often. “I’m looking forward to being more present and enjoying the moment. When I don’t have to stop for phone calls and customers I will be able to stop by friends’ houses in town and have a real visit.”
With all the added free time, Judith is looking forward to focusing on some of her other passions. She is excited to be able to devote more time to her painting and mural work along with her spiritual healing.
Judith also knows better than to leave Goodland high and dry. She has handpicked her replacement, leaving the position to Officer in Charge, Shannon Mitchell. Shannon comes to Goodland from the Ochopee Post Office which is known as the smallest Post Office in the Unites States. Hailing from Everglades City, Shannon is used to the small town atmosphere. She has already started training at the Goodland Post Office and will be ready to take over August 1. She joins Ellen Hall who is a part time employee at the Goodland Post Office and John Diamantidis, who maintains the Post Office and its garden.
Residents of Goodland will certainly miss Judith as they have grown accustomed to her friendly face and encouraging spirit. A farewell party has been planned so that the town can gather and wish her a happy retirement. One thing is for sure, the party will be full of laughs and recollections of fond memories with Judith and times shared at the Goodland Post Office.