Bluffton's new postmaster, Teri Yardley, finds the town both "beautiful and charming." Her assignment is a far cry from her first postmaster position in Purdin, Mo., which had one-and-a-half mail delivery routes.
There are 31 mail routes running out of the main Bluffton post office on Thurmond Way and another 19 routes operating out of the postal annex on Red Oaks Lane in Okatie. Yardley said with the amount of growth the area is experiencing, she will need to add three or four more.
Yardley came from Farmington, N.M., where she was postmaster for that city of approximately 42,000 near the Four Corners in the southwest. In addition to a new opportunity, coming to the Bluffton office gave her a chance to spend more time with family.
"When the postal service opened up hiring opportunities last year, you could apply for anywhere so I applied for this post," she said. "My youngest son lives in Savannah and he has three children. I've been coming down to this area one or two times a year but I had never been to the Bluffton area."
Last July, Yardley paid a visit to the Bluffton Post Office. After reporting for work in January, she began to understand why growth was the main topic of conversation when she interviewed.
"Growth is a challenge," said Yardley, "and it's bringing some changes in how we deliver mail. In all the other offices I've had, the growth has been stable. It's been nothing like this."
How customers receive mail is changing. As a cost-savings move, the U.S. Postal Service headquarters has directed that new developments or new phases of developments will receive their mail and packages in a central location rather than the traditional individual curbside mailboxes in front of homes.
Yardley said this will be a change for those who move into later phases of the same development.
"It is less expensive and there will be parcel lockers," said Yardley. "Parcel delivery is growing every day. The new lockers are really safe and secure."
Yardley said delivery methods aren't the only things changing.
"There are some challenges in improving the image we have," she said. "That always tends to be an issue no matter where you go. There's the customer issue up front. The counter is always busy and I've asked if we can expand. The kiosk is open 24 hours a day and it gets used a lot."
How, where and when more space will be found is yet to be determined, but in the meantime she wants to make things better for customers and employees.
"The post office should be an integral part of your community and you should be involved in the community you're in," she said. "I hope I can make it a better place. I want our customers to feel confident that they're going to receive the best customer service we can give them."
She said the postal service is transforming, and is so different from when she started in 1989 as a postal clerk.
Yardley has been a postmaster at six sites for 21 of the nearly 30 years she has worked for the postal service.
"I like working for the post office. I've had a lot of opportunities that I've been blessed to receive. I've traveled all over the United States," she said. "I've met some wonderful people both professionally within the postal service and as customers. And it's allowed me to grow as a person. I tell my people all the time they are so fortunate to have such a great job with great benefits."
Yardley is currently staying with her son while looking for a place to live in Bluffton.
"Bluffton is so charming. I looked online at downtown where they're renovating before I even moved here," said Yardley. "When I went downtown and drove down to the little church, the Church of the Cross, it's so beautiful down by the river. And the people I've met have been so receptive."
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.