Prairieville postmaster retires after 40 years of service
In his 40 years with the U.S. Postal Service, Benny Daigle has seen a lot of changes - especially in the Prairieville area post Hurricane Katrina. “When I first started here, we had six routes,” he said. “Today we have 21 routes. There were 3,500 houses back then. There are 13,917 houses today. I've been there through all of the growth. It's been interesting.” Daigle, 59, has been postmaster in Prairieville for the past 20 years. Between his military and post office experience, he has 40 years of federal service under his belt. His last day is July 31. “It's the people I'm going to miss the most,” he said. “I've met many, many wonderful people.” Daigle is very involved in his professional organization: National Association of Postmasters of the United States, Louisiana Chapter. He currently serves as State Postmaster Representative and will remain in that position even after retirement. “For the past 25 years, I've helped put on the state convention and our district meetings,” he said. “Our state convention was in Houma this year.” In addition, Daigle was elected as 2013 chairman of NAPUS Southern Officers, which governs 11 Southern states. In 2016, the organization will hold its convention in New Orleans and Daigle will serve as its chairman. Daigle said the great thing about being active in the national organization he knows he has a friend in every town he visits. “If you think about it, there's a postmaster in every city or town,” he said. “If you're traveling and your car breaks down, you can just call the postmaster for help. That goes for your kids, your husband or your wife. You can just call and say you need help and they go out of their way to help you. There's a great bond between postmasters. They're like a second family.” He said a postmaster friend called and told him his daughter and grandchild had recently relocated to the area after a divorce. She was concerned that a man from the neighborhood had been spotted looking in her window. Daigle spoke to a law enforcement officer who drove by the woman's house and happened to see the man. The officer spoke to him and he's never been back since that time. “Every time she sees me, she thanks me and says 'I'll never forget what you did,'” he said. One of the accomplishments Daigle is most proud of his award-winning customer service. “My goal is always to provide excellent customer service,” he said. “I hope I've done that these past 20 years even with all of the growth. We have a friendly atmosphere and a good group of people, from the people at the front to our mail carriers.” As a result of growth, Prairieville is not on the list of small town facilities the U.S. Postal Service was studying for possible closure. “There's been a decline in volume with new technology, but our growth has off-set that,” he said. “We're picking up several new subdivisions coming. There will be 1,090 new houses when the developers finish.” The postal service has not named a replacement for him as postmaster, he said. “I expect they will name someone in the next couple of months,” he said. Daigle said he is not participating in the buyout program the U.S. Postal Service is offering to get postmasters to retire. He said his retirement plans were already in progress. “There are 90 postmasters in the state retiring this year,” he acknowledged. “All of our experience is leaving. I hope whoever comes in here worries about the customers and the employees like I do.” Candace Boyd of Prairieville has worked with Daigle for 14 years - her entire career. She started in a small office in French Settlement being transferred to Gonzales. Daigle was a mentor. “He was very helpful and took time to answer questions,” she said. “I wanted to work in Prairieville. He gave me the chance when so many others wouldn't have.” Boyd said she was surprised to learn of Daigle's retirement. “I just can't imagine being here without him,” she said with her voice choking back tears. “But he's no push-over. He's by the book when it comes to the rules.” Memrose Dean of Prairieville said, “I'll miss him.” “He's been real good to me,” she said. Dean, 71, said she expected to retire before Daigle. “I told him when he left, I will leave,” she said. “I just haven't made arrangements, yet.” Dean joked that she is Daigle's “only perfect employee.” “I told him I haven't made a mistake all year,” she said. However, the joke was on Dean. “He took me over to the calendar and had my mistakes written on the calendar,” she laughed. Rusty Courville of Baton Rouge said he's not happy to see Daigle leaving. “I'm not happy at all,” he said. “I've had a lot of bosses, but he's the best boss I ever had. He helps his employees. Whether it's about hours, personal problems, leave or time off, he tries to help. He's been very good to me. He's not just a boss, he's a friend.” Courville said the customers will miss Daigle, too. “He cares about his customers,” he said. “Most people don't know what their postmaster looks like, but not here. He's friendly and talks to everyone. People are going to miss him a lot.” Shelley Sanchez of Dutchtown has worked with Daigle for 22 years. She said she was “shocked” to hear Daigle was retiring. “I knew he had plenty of years but with his parents and his sister gone, the post office has been his life - not just his career,” she said. “I kept thinking he'd stay longer. I'm sad, but I know we'll keep in touch.” Sanchez described Daigle as a “people person.” “Even if you never said anything, he could read you,” she said. “He knew if you were okay or not.” Patrons are invited to drop in to say goodbye during an open house from 9 to 11 a.m. on July 31. The Prairieville Post Office is located at 15655 Airline Drive. Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez will be there to make a presentation in Daigle's honor.