Jack Karn, who has delivered mail to the 93705 zip code in Berkeley and Oakland for almost three decades, is retiring. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Jack Karn, who has delivered mail to the 94705 zip code in Berkeley and Oakland for almost three decades, (and been a carrier for almost 40) is retiring. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

For the last 28 years, Jack Karn has driven all around the 94705 zip code, delivering mail to 300 families in the hills. He has climbed up and down stairs, lugged packages, and slopped through rain and traffic.

Thursday, Oct. 1 will be his last day as a U.S. postal carrier, much to the regret of the people to whom he delivers mail. After 38 years with the postal service, Karn is retiring.

“It’s time for a change,” said Karn, 67, who lives in Berkeley. “I am ready for the next step.”

He doesn’t have specific plans what he’ll do next. He loves music and has many house projects to complete.

The best part of the job has been getting to know the families on the route, he said. Karn said he knows about 75% of the people he delivers mail to on his 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. He often gets a chance to chat with them when he drops off mail. And when Karn takes lunch at 10 a.m. by the small string of shops on Domingo Avenue, he often runs into his “customers” and talks some more.

“I get to see the kids grow up,” said Karn. “It’s kind of cool. From when they are little to when they wave at you, to when they are teenagers and ignore you. They go off to college. Some even come back and are friendly.”

Karn has seen a lot on his route: 94705 is a Berkeley mailing address, but most of the homes are actually in Oakland. Many of the homes were destroyed in the 1991 fire.

When news went out on the neighborhood list-serve that Karn was retiring, many people wrote emails expressing dismay.

“Jack was truly a one-of-a kind mail carrier,” Jeannie Cecka wrote in an email. “His warmth and genuine interest in the people along his route made you feel like you had run into an old friend whenever you saw him.”

Cecka first met Karn when her family bought a house on lower Alvarado Road in Berkeley. Karn was the first person she met on the street, and she felt warmly welcomed by him.

“Throughout the years, it was always like running into a friend when he would deliver the mail,” she said. “My kids would hear the sound of the mail truck and run down to say hi to Jack. If neither of us were in a rush, we would catch up on how the kids were doing, upcoming vacations and shared stories about camping and outdoor adventures.”

Morton McDonald sent out an email with the subject heading “Jack Karn, Darn.” McDonald said his house was the last on the route so Karn often had time to talk to Karn, and even bought one of his old bikes for a relative.

“Jack probably knows more about each of us from the magazines we subscribe to and other clues than any neighbor,” said McDonald.

The Elmwood Station post office has a number of long-time employees, according to Karn. Just a few months ago Ezekiel Bradley III, who had been a mail carrier for 40 years, retired.

It is getting more difficult to work for the U.S. Postal Service, said Karn. While he enjoys his co-workers, the organization has been a challenge. Faced with budget constraints and public pressure to trim costs, the postal service wants carriers to do more in less time.

“It puts pressure on all the carriers,” said Karn.

For Karn, not after today.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...