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Postmaster delivers through the ages

Cloquet Postmaster Todd Manisto retired April 3, 30 years and one day from his first day as a city carrier in the city of Cloquet. It's been a rewarding career, but increasingly busy as he climbed the ranks of the United States Postal Service.

Manisto may not know what to do with himself at first. He often puts in six or seven days a week.

"We'll miss him," said supervisor Ben Bergerson, after threatening "words" for Manisto. "I came to this office thinking I'd take postmaster for sure when he retired."

Now he's not so certain. His boss leaves behind big shoes to fill.

Don't believe it? Ask Manisto's brother, Scott. He's been at the post office in Duluth almost as long, and he's seen his younger brother in action.

"Todd puts in a lot of hours," Scott said in a phone interview. "He doesn't shirk responsibilities. He's very conscientious and dedicated. He will leave a big gap when he's gone because of the hours he works.

"If I was him, I'd retire too."

Todd Manisto said he wanted to be a mailman when he was still a kid, delivering the News Tribune in the morning and the Duluth Herald in the afternoon. Things have come full circle, with all the local newspapers delivered by mail.

"There's still some people that I delivered newspapers to when I was a kid that live in the same houses," he said. "Not very many, but it's kind of neat to see. I see a lot of old teachers, and a lot of classmates."

Manisto didn't remain in Cloquet for his entire career - there were stints in Duluth, Esko and Saginaw - but the Cloquet post office was home base for most of the second half of his career.

The 1985 Cloquet grad thinks back fondly on the days of being a letter carrier, whether it was walking the streets of his hometown, or delivering mail along the north shore of Lake Superior.

"I used to love being a carrier. It was fun," Manisto said. "Being outside, having some alone time, even sometimes too much time to think."

Tales from a letter carrier

One of Manisto's favorite mail routes found him driving eight miles up the Expressway and then back down the scenic highway along Lake Superior to Duluth. But he got into a very bad habit on that route, he said.

"I found out that chocolate chip cookies, Coke and cigars taste really good together," Manisto said. "It made for a really relaxing day. Then one day my wife said, 'Why are you doing this?' So I stopped. It really wasn't good for me."

Another time he hit a partridge.

"A couple stops later I brought a package up to a house and asked the lady if she wanted a partridge and she said 'yeah, we'll eat him.'"

There are other stories he can't talk about, but he noted that letter carriers do a lot more than just bring the mail. They are another caring presence in the neighborhood.

"There's been times I've come across domestics and called 911. Or called for welfare checks," he said. "Carriers get to know when people pick up their mail. Some of these carriers have been on the same route 15-20 years. Maybe someone's mail doesn't get picked up for a couple days and they'll call for a welfare check. Usually they're in the right."

When he was a carrier, Manisto said 15-20 packages was a heavy day.

Now it's not abnormal for a carrier to have over 300 in a day," he said.

They're even open on Sundays, thanks to Amazon packages. Fortunately, those are shorter days, he said.

Early days

Manisto didn't go straight to the post office after graduation. He attended vocational school after high school, then got a job with LensCrafters, traveling around the country opening stores. He even won a national competition with the eyeglass company. Competitors had to make a pair of glasses the fastest, following all the correct procedures.

With that win, he landed on a Wheaties box - or at least the company put Manisto and other top employees on the image of a Wheaties box to celebrate.

But it wasn't something he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

"I was working down in the Cities and making good money there and I came back up to work at the mall in Duluth," he said. "That was back when getting hired at the Post Office was a life changing experience."

He took a class to learn how to pass the post office test, and scored in the 90s. He "almost" got hired. Then the United States and partner nations invaded Iraq in response to that country's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. With veterans taking priority, Manisto got bumped back down the list.

"Out of the blue one day, my hometown of Cloquet called me," he said. "I'd been waiting a couple years since I took the tests. I practically forgot about it."

It's a different world today, he said. They get a couple applicants for a job instead of hundreds.

Postmaster

Manisto was promoted to entry level supervisor in Duluth in 2005. He got the supervisor job in Cloquet in 2007. The supervisor more or less runs everything and the postmaster oversees it. At least that was the theory before Covid - when online orders exploded across America - and the deal with Amazon.

"Things are different than what they used to be," said Manisto, with his trademark smile.

He was promoted to postmaster in September 2018. There are 31 employees at the Cloquet post office, about 26 of them carriers, half rural carriers and half urban. Only three or four people have been there as long as he has.

"They're great people to work with," Manisto said. "It's like a family."

He's not sure what retirement will bring. Maybe an entirely different job, and probably more time at the family hunting shack that his grandpa and brother built in 1961 and his brother and cousins helped rebuild last summer by Canyon.

It's a job that has brought him satisfaction. The post office provides an important service that he was proud to be part of.

"I enjoyed it," he said. "It's stressful, but for the most part it's rewarding."

Manisto is optimistic about the future of the post office. "It's gonna be different, but it's going to be around," he predicted.

There is a farewell gathering for Manisto 5-8 p.m. Saturday, April 13 at The Jack in Cloquet. Friends and well-wishers are welcome.