Royal OakJuly 21, 2014
Neighbors honor a fixture in the community: their mailman
By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — A common college application essay question will ask applicants to describe people they admire, and applicants’ answers might range from parents to teachers to world leaders.
For Leona Center’s daughter, who was applying for a spot at the University of Michigan, it was Leo Alston, the neighborhood mailman.
“And she got accepted,” Center said. “Leo has made a big impact on all the lives of all the families.”
It was relationships like this with Alston, who has delivered mail to homes near the vicinity of Kenwood Court for more than 20 years, that led residents to honor the postal worker July 16 with yard signs singing his praises.
“I am surprised,” was all Alston could say. “I wasn’t expecting this today.”
Seated in the driveway of Center’s home awaiting the mailman’s arrival, neighbors reminisced about their memories with Alston.
“This is small but big,” said Carolyn Wolf, a resident of the block since 1988. “He knocked on the door and said, ‘Your tire is flat.’”
She said she probably would have taken off in her car that day without looking and been stuck on the side of the road, had it not been for his warning.
Pat Grundy’s dog would wait every day for Alston to come to their front porch.
Lisa Stockman’s daughter was outside playing without her glasses. Alston saw Stockman’s daughter and demanded she return home to retrieve her glasses.
“And he waited until she came back out with those glasses on,” Stockman said.
And the stories went on, likely enough to fill a book.
There was no particular milestone in Alston’s career and no retirement being celebrated.
“I want that to be clear,” Center said. “This is not to say ‘Bye Leo.’ We want to honor him and be grateful.”
The impetus for the plan was this year’s horrible winter filled with polar vortexes that dipped temperatures well below zero.
Despite the frigid temperatures, neighbors said Alston never complained or even accepted a warm drink.
When she sent out the notice announcing a July 15 get-together to make the signs, she was surprised by the response.
“This neighborhood is not that well-connected as buddies and pals,” Center said. “But when this notice went out, a lot of people wanted to come.”
For those who weren’t able to make it, they asked those who could attend to make a sign for their lawn. The result was a parade of gratefulness awaiting Alston along his route.
“You could have at least given me a heads-up,” he jokingly said to the neighbors as he approached Center’s home.
He said that after all these years, he feels a part of the neighborhood — particularly after getting to know their kids throughout the years.
“Thank you for this show of appreciation; that’s all I can say,” he said.