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30 years, many surprises
Times photo: Anthony Wahl Bobette Preston delivers mail in the town of Juda early last Friday morning. Preston will retire after three decades as rural letter carrier from the Juda Post Office on Tuesday. Her daily route has 400 customers.

JUDA - Bobette Preston has seen a lot of things in mailboxes over the past three decades as rural letter carrier for the Juda Post Office: She's found a live cat, rats and, in what she assumes was a practical joke intended for the mailbox's owner, crab claws.

"I found every creature imaginable," Preston said, adding that some items she has found in the mailbox were not all bad.

Like some of the special deliveries she's made.

"We find letters to Santa," Preston said. "We pass them on to Santa's assistant."

Preston will retire as rural letter carrier from the Juda Post Office on Aug. 2.

She's enjoyed her years on the job.

"I have been blessed," said Preston, who lives in Brodhead. "I wouldn't have traded routes with anybody."

Her route consists of traveling 110 miles with 400 families Tuesday through Saturday. Many of those families have been there for her three decades on the job.

"A quarter of the people still live here," Preston said. "I watched those people grow up and have children. Those kids may be the next generation (to live there)."

It's been a neat experience seeing these kids growing up on her route, Preston said.

"They had to put up with me," Preston laughed.

Preston did not originally start out as the full-time rural letter carrier when she joined the post office. Her ex-father-in-law, John Mahlkuch, had been the substitute on the route for 13 years when he was offered a full-time position as the rural carrier. Then he got sick and was not able to do it, Preston said.

Taking over the carrier position was an easy decision for Preston.

"I knew I didn't like working in an office, inside," Preston said. "I liked being outside."

And it helped that Preston grew up in the area.

"I knew the people, I lived here," Preston said.

On a typical day, Preston arrives at the office around 7:15 a.m. to help sort mail for her route. She said works between eight and 10 hours per day, with five or six of those hours driving. With her rural route, she uses her own car, but is reimbursed for all the miles, Preston said.

"This is considered a long route, being 110 miles," Preston said. "One fun thing about it is that every day is different."

For five years, Preston worked on a special assignment in Madison, where she was one of two instructors that taught new rural carriers. However, the second instructor took another special assignment somewhere else. Instructing became almost like a full-time job for Preston.

"I was ready to come back," she said. "That was a lot (of work) and I wanted to come back here full-time."

After she retires, Preston plans to spend more time with her two children and four grandchildren.

Though she knows she will miss all the people on her route, Preston will not miss the hazards the come with the job - such as occasional car trouble or getting stuck in the snow.

"(I look forward to) sitting on the deck and having a cup of coffee and not worrying about how bad the roads are," Preston said.