The Daily Northwestern

Despite summer and email, NU mailroom busy as ever

Driver Elvis Acuna sorts a batch of mail in the Northwestern mailroom. Acuna has worked in the  mailroom for over 50 years.

Driver Elvis Acuna sorts a batch of mail in the Northwestern mailroom. Acuna has worked in the mailroom for over 50 years.

Andrew Rowan/The Daily Northwestern

Andrew Rowan/The Daily Northwestern

Driver Elvis Acuna sorts a batch of mail in the Northwestern mailroom. Acuna has worked in the mailroom for over 50 years.

Andrew Rowan, Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Directly from the Evanston post office, clerk Christine Borchers lugged a flatbed cart with a four-foot high pile of letters and packages into Northwestern’s mailroom. The two waiting clerks sprung into the organized chaos of sorting the new delivery.

Receiving 63,000 to 97,000 pieces of mail per month, the Northwestern Mail Services’ team of three clerks and six drivers sort every envelope, package and newspaper sent to University faculty and staff. Student mail is sent directly to package pickup centers or directly to residence halls.

The group sorts envelopes by the “pigeonhole method,” clerk and backup driver Ray Montes said. The clerks look at the addresses and sort by delivery routes and drivers then sort their routes’ piles by building and department.

Though department directories sit above the mailboxes, Montes said he didn’t need to use them when he encountered a letter without a building name. He already knew where it was going, one of the advantages of working with the same names for so long.

The University mailroom, located nearly a mile west of the main campus, is bustling weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nearly all the clerks and drivers have worked with the University’s mail for more than 25 years and have seen the decline of mail and the rise of packages, said supervisor Sherry Estes, who has worked for NU mail services for 30 years.

Estes said the mail room receives an average of 10,000 packages each month. While workers are officially supposed to only accept work-related shipments, Estes said it’s too hard to make distinctions, so everything, even packages from Macy’s and Old Navy, is accepted.

Estes said the number of packages “keeps everyone with a job.”

Mail is slowest during summer, Estes said, as many faculty are on vacation, but the mailroom stays equally busy as parents send packages to their students attending summer programs at NU. Those parcels go through the mailroom instead of directly to package pickup centers or the residence halls, like during the academic year. If a letter or package arrives after the program has ended, the mailroom must forward it to their home, lead driver Stanley Coburn said.

“There’s always something to do here,” Estes said of the summer months.

The mailroom staff’s comradery is unmistakable, senior clerk Pearl Adewusi said. They groove to ‘80s music and fist-bump the FedEx delivery man when he comes for the fourth time of the day. Adewusi said the group is like family and gathers for celebrations inside and out of the mailroom.

“If we get a big job, everyone just pitches in and helps,” Adewusi said. “I’ve never been ashamed to say I work in a mailroom because I love my job.”

Working for Northwestern mail for over 50 years, driver Elvis Acuna, said he enjoys getting to know the faces along his route, but there are too many people moving each year to memorize everyone’s name.

Coburn added that while some days can be harder — specifically days where construction alters delivery routes — the group always seems to manage. Working with people who have been in the mailroom for so long is an advantage because people are reliable and know what it takes to get the job done correctly, Coburn said.

“This is one of the most valuable places in any institution, not just here,” Coburn said. “Nobody ever thinks about the mailroom except when they don’t get their packages. The recognition we should get we never get.”

Andrew Rowan is a student in the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute this summer.