A 72-year legacy of mail delivery ends in Philip/Milesville area

The Thorson family has a long and storied history as independent contractors delivering mail for the United States Postal Service in Philip, South Dakota. They covered a challenging 170-mile route six days a week, 302 days a year, for 72 years. However, all good things must come to an end, and with Bob Thorson's retirement on September 30, the Thorson family's dynasty of mail delivery will reach its conclusion. For the first time in many years, the multiple generations of families on this rural route outside of Philip and Milesville, who grew up receiving their mail from the Thorsons, will find themselves met with a new face delivering their mail.
In 1951, Bob's grandparents, Ernie and Mildred Pierce, started delivering mail. While it is unclear if they initially had a contract, they soon began working under one. In 1968 Bob's Grandpa Pierce passed away, leaving his wife to take over the contract.
On October 16, 1971, which happened to be their anniversary, Bob’s parents, Leonard and Phillis, took over the contract and delivered the mail for the next 34 years. During this period, Bob graduated from high school and went on to serve in the Air Force for four years. However, he would often take leave to help out with the mail delivery, allowing his parents to attend World War II Navy reunions.
“Delivering the mail felt like second nature to me, as I had accompanied my grandfather on deliveries as a child and knew the route by heart,” reflected Bob. After serving four years in the Air Force and graduating from college, Bob was given the opportunity to buy ¼ interest in the contract.
On January 1, 1985, Leonard, Phillis, and Bob formed a partnership known as Thorson Mail Service. “Over the years, the route has remained relatively stable, consisting of around 90 customers,” said Bob.
When asked what he misses most if he were to look back over the years, Bob answered, “I’ll miss the wildlife such as deer, antelope, pheasants, grouse, coyotes, and of course rattle snakes.”
When it came to customer service Bob explained, “Sometimes people will leave me a blank check or cash to pay for the postage on their outgoing mail that I would pick up along my route. If someone gave me too much cash, I would return the change to them in a small envelope in their mail delivery along with a receipt. It’s a community out here; these are people my family and I have known for years and years, so there is a lot of trust established.”
Bob's parents continued delivering mail until around 2005 when Bob bought the remaining portion of the contract from them. From 2005 until his retirement on September 30, 2023, Bob has faithfully served the communities in and around Philip. This marks the end of 39 years of contracting for Bob Thorson. “I will not miss the bad weather and all the cold days. I still remember the one and only time I got stranded and was unable to make it back to Philip. I had to stay overnight at Tommy and Eileen Fitzgerald’s. We played cards all night long!” mused Bob.
For over seventy-two years, the Thorson family has been an integral part of the community, ensuring that letters, packages, and parcels reached their intended recipients promptly and efficiently. Their commitment to their work and the delivery of each item, sometimes in the harshest weather conditions, has not gone unnoticed. “Along with not having a serious accident, we have never missed a day of delivery unless hazardous roads or weather conditions existed,” noted Thorson. “We have also had excellent relief drivers over the years.”
As a new era dawns, the community that has relied on the Thorsons for generations will have the opportunity to “say thanks” to a family who has faithfully served them for over seven decades. A retirement party will be held in Bob’s honor at the Bad River Senior Citizen’s Center on Saturday, September 30 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
This change will undoubtedly be felt by all who have been served by the Thorson family’s remarkable dedication and service in delivering mail in the Philip and Milesville area.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
E Mail: ads@pioneer-review.com

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