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Community rallies to save post office

Nearly 300 community members gathered in downtown Forest Home Thursday evening to rally to protest the possible closing of the Forest Home post office.

Records at the Greenville-Butler County Library indicate the Forest Home community was established in 1891, and also that during the 1880s, the Forest Home postmaster was George Lazenby.

More than just a handful of elected officials for the area came to offer their support.

Beginning in April of this year, residents of Forest Home made their feelings known to the U.S. Postal Service that they did not want their post office to be closed.

&uot;Back in the spring of this year, we held a demonstration in front of the Greenville post office to protest the closure of our community's post office,&uot; said Fred Thompson, a resident of the community and leader of the efforts to keep the &uot;vital&uot; service open. &uot;After writing numerous letters to the U.S. Postal Service, both in Birmingham and Washington, D.C., we were told at that time we would not lose our post office.&uot;

Thompson said this was following the retirement of two long-time servants of the community post office, the route carrier and the postmaster.

&uot;When we were picketing in Greenville, we were told the post office would not be closing, although the route method might be changed,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;So, feeling safe in the knowledge that our post office was securely in place, we went home n but now the talk has started again, and we want to make sure our concerns are heard.&uot;

Thompson said the rally was called to show solidarity and support to keep the community post office open.

&uot;we started getting signals of trouble, right after long-time employees retired,&uot; he said. &uot;There has been a lot of noise of possibly closing the station.&uot;

Thompson said several letters have been sent both to and from the U.S. Postal Service, including letters from Washington, D.C.

&uot;In April they wrote us that the Forest Home operation would remain, however they were reevaluating the route contract,&uot; he said. &uot;We thought our fight was done, that is, until recently. In more recent correspondence from Birmingham, they have said they are under the gun' to reevaluate the contracts.&uot;

Thompson said word again began circulating following other postal station closings that Forest Home would lose its post office also.

&uot;They bought new boxes for our post office, but every time our postmaster requests to have them installed, the request is denied,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;We are very concerned about the U.S. Postal Service as a whole n if they can afford to give all of their top management bonuses, it seems like they ought to be able to keep this place open.&uot;

Thompson said a group of retired postmasters sent him a guideline of steps to take in order to keep the post office open.

&uot;We already have most of the steps completed,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;We have petitions signed by all of the postal patrons of the Forest Home community, our government officials have sent letters requesting to keep it open, we have also received generous coverage from The Greenville Advocate, and also from local TV news crews n what we need now is to gather a list of all those interested in having post office boxes here in Forest Home,&uot; he said.

Thompson said another consideration he has heard was making the Forest Home route another part of the Greenville Post Office.

&uot;That would only further take away from our community's identity, especially since we are still contacting correspondents about our new E-911 addresses,&uot; Thompson said.

Next taking the podium, Sen. Wendell Mitchell said, &uot;I was afraid I would be late to get here, as it was raining in Luverne, and it is a long walk from there to Forest Home.&uot;

Mitchell said he can personally identify with the community's concerns.

&uot;This goes beyond service, it goes deep to the core of a community's identity n it is very important to keep it (the post office),&uot; Mitchell said.

Of himself, Rep. Charles Newton, and all of the county's elected officials, Mitchell said they could support the issue, but it would take more.

&uot;We can all support the post office being kept, but the key is our federal representation, since this is a part of the federal government,&uot; the senator said. &uot;Just recently, the small Alabama community of Matthews was successful in keeping its post office opened n it is possible to do, and I offer my complete support.&uot;

Representative Charles Newton, a Greenville resident, spoke next.

&uot;I have written to postal officials in Birmingham,&uot; Newton said. &uot;I think diligence is the key issue to keeping the post office open. If they are allowed now to cancel the carrier contract, then later on, they will say, why not' when it comes to closing the doors for good.&uot;

Butler County District Clerk Allen Stephenson reflected on his upbringing in Forest Home.

&uot;I would not have traded coming here for anything,&uot; Stephenson, who grew up in the small community, said. &uot;I remember when they closed down the schoolhouse out here n I remember what an impact it had on the community economically.&uot;

Stephenson said he has opted to bring much of his business to the small community.

&uot;In the spring, I purchased 1,100 stamps here n I encourage everyone to come here for their postal business n I think it is all about profitability, so if we can show the USPS that they are making a profit here, they could not close down the post office.&uot;

Stephenson closed by saying, &uot;This is home for me n we need to protect home.&uot;

Gary Hanks, chairman of the Butler County Commission, said the county is taking steps to help in the effort.

&uot;The Commission is putting together a resolution to offer its support in keeping the post office open,&uot; Hanks said.

Also in attendance to show their support were several representatives from Butler County's government, including: Belle Peavy, tax collector, Carolyn Middleton, tax assessor, Sheriff Diane Harris, Chief Deputy Kenny Harden, District Judge Barry Branum, Probate Judge Mack Russell, District Attorney John Andrews, County Commissioners Daniel Robinson and Jesse McWilliams and Cecelia Meeks, field representative for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Following the speakers, a drawing was held, to give away door prizes donated by area residents and merchants of the community.