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Dickinson man Gene Kudrna retires after 4 decade postal career

"We went there, we worked and we got the job done. But we enjoyed the job,” Kudrna said, reminiscing of a time when there was a stronger sense of camaraderie and community at his workplace.

Gene Kudrna
Dickinson man Gene Kudrna recently capped off his 41 year career with the U.S. Postal Service.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — In early November Gene Kudrna worked his final shift after 41 years with the U.S. Postal Service. The past 23 of those years have been as window clerk at the Dickinson branch.

Prior to beginning his career with the Postal Service he served his country with the U.S. Army in Germany, and was working at a grocery store called Fred’s Fairway in Belfield when he discovered the opportunity. He’s an alumnus of South Heart High School.

“I went to the Post Office one day to mail a package or pick up stamps,” he said. “There was a note on the bulletin board that they were giving the civil service exam. I took the test, I passed… and got hired.”

Kudrna explained the labor market was much different back then and that he felt a stronger sense of camaraderie with coworkers who were there together for the long-haul.

“Things were a lot better though, than they are today. So it was a pleasure coming to work. We went there, we worked and we got the job done. But we enjoyed the job,” he said pensively. “You've probably heard the saying ‘you just can't find help.’ And when you do get the help, they're gone in a day or two and just don't stick around. Back then when you got that job, you stuck around. You didn't quit.”

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In 1991 USPS opened a new processing facility in Bismarck, with game changing technology that allowed packages to be tracked and organized in a new computer system. He and several others were given the choice to quit, work part-time or move east.

“I was married with two girls. They didn't want to move their lives, both in school. So I got an apartment down there with another guy. And we both traveled on the weekends back and forth,” Gene said.

This continued until 1999 when he took the job of Dickinson window clerk who retired. He said most Post Office visitors are pleasant, but occasionally some are rude and obnoxious.

When asked about memorable encounters, he said he was amazed several years ago when a man was yelling at him and making a scene over a missing package. Gene heard another man in line reasoning with the disgruntled customer, who apologized to Gene when he returned to the counter. He also recalled being on bird duty during a spring blizzard that brought shipping to a halt.

“There were chickens here. We had to feed and water the chickens to keep them alive,” he said. “We’d get chickens and other birds on a daily basis.”

Gene’s wife Monika died in March. She had colon cancer that metastasized and eventually reached her kidneys. The couple met in Germany while he was working for the U.S. Army & Air Force exchange service. They married in 1979, roughly a year before he started at the Post Office. He explained that Monika was popular throughout the community.

“There’s some women now who come up to me, still to this day and say they’re sorry about Monika. I don’t even know who they are,” he explained, adding that she was an excellent cook. “German potato salad was the best dish. Everybody liked that. Just the right touch of vinegar, that did it… She had some other dishes too, like wienerschnitzel.”

It’s been a rough year for Gene. He said one of his two daughters had a brain tumor removed, but then more recently had a stroke and is recovering from that.

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“She’s got a long road ahead of her,” he said.

He also has one grandson who is a diesel mechanic.

Gene said he’ll be spending some of his newfound time watching his favorite television shows, Chicago Fire and Law & Order.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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