Henry Farmby may have retired from the U.S. Postal Service after nearly five decades, but he won't stop serving the West Side. During a March 31 retirement party held at Bethel New Life Center's Amberg Hall, 1140 N. Lamon Ave., Farmby said he'll just have more time to devote to a higher service — his role as pastor of New Rock of Ages Baptist church, 5222 W. North Ave.
"For 28 years, I've had a ministry, too," Farmby said during last month's retirement party. "I did both jobs full-time, so I'm going to keep doing my ministry."
The veteran mail carrier, who started his long career as a mail handler at a post office downtown, said that his two life's callings are similar in some key respects.
"My job at the post office was the same as ministry," he said. "I delivered physical letters through the post office and spiritual letters from the Lord. All He's telling us is the same thing He's told us since the Garden of Eden — Get right!"
Farmby was born in Chicago. He was his high school's valedictorian, but he turned down a scholarship to attend college in order to accept a job offer from the post office.
"At that time we needed the money more than the education," he recalled. "I wanted to help my mom out with my four brothers and seven sisters. Nowadays, though, I tell kids that education will help you more."
Farmby was transferred to the Robert LeFlore Post Office, 5001 W. Division, in 1978. He would stay at that post office for 38 years.
"When you get a route, you're on your own instead of working with the same people all day," he said. "I enjoyed the freedom."
In addition to freedom, the work also brought sustenance. Farmby supported a family with his postal service career. His wife, Dorothy, was a homemaker who helped raise their five children — Clifford, an engineer; Tifanni, a teacher; Laticia, a student and photographer; Monez, a city employee; and Cornell, who followed in his father's footsteps.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do but I saw my dad rear a family working for the post office, so I thought I'd try it for five years," Cornell said. "That turned into 21 years. I was a letter carrier for 16 years and am now a supervisor at a post office in Arlington Heights."
Emmett Farrister, who is also a mail carrier, said that Farmby was an influence on him even before he started working with the Postal Service.
"Henry was the letter carrier on my street," Farrister said. "Before I came to work for the post office, he gave me a lot of advice. Henry was quieter than, not as crazy as, some of us. He would help everybody. I've never known him to say no to anyone who asked. He is very good-hearted."
Farmby, who described himself as a people person, said that he'll miss the family dynamic that characterized his job.
"I miss my postal family," said Farmby, who's been off the job since December. "Not only my peers in blue, but all my customers. Some people call me 'Pops or 'Rev'. They tell me about the babies and about the funerals in their family. They became part of me."
Despite the positives, however, there were also the very present risks of delivering mail on the West Side — an aspect of the job that Dorothy said she won't miss.
She called her husband's retirement "a new beginning for us, because we're almost empty nesters. I was worried about him. There have been shootings and stealing on his route. But God brought him through."
And that's a message that Farmby won't stop delivering anytime soon.
"I pray for those working in the postal service. We're out there, daily fixtures of the community, just like the houses we deliver to," he said. "I pray for the Lord to protect everyone. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be in service, one form or another. I'm still a servant."
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