Questions & Answers with community faces
Josh Bedell (48) was born at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital. His parents, Dodie and Don Bedell had moved to Frankfort just four years before, in 1967, when his father began teaching mathematics at Frankfort High School, where he also coached boys junior varsity and girls junior high basketball. Meanwhile, Dodie became a full-time teacher at Platte River Elementary in 1984, after having returned to Central Michigan University (CMU) to get her degree.
Long before this, however, other family members were already in Benzie County—for instance, Eastman Road, near Beulah, is named after the Eastman side of Josh Bedell’s maternal family, and Homestead Road is named after the original homestead there, which was another part of his family.
Bedell attended Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools all the way through, graduating in 1990. After high school, he began studies at CMU, but transferred back to Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) in Traverse City for a few years, receiving his Associate’s degree in arts, before transferring to Eastern Michigan University to study broadcasting and journalism since.
In September 1997, Bedell moved back home to Frankfort with “no real plan at the time,” he admits, working for Mackinac Brewing Company, then Crystal Mountain, before getting his real estate license in 1999 and working for Sleeping Bear Realty until 2005. But Bedell eventually went to work for the U.S. Postal Service in 2006, and he has not looked back.
Given that the holidays are fast approaching, we at The Betsie Current thought that it would be worthwhile to talk to Bedell about best practices when sending a package, among other things. Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, we caught up with Bedell in between deliveries.
The Betsie Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you?
Josh Bedell: Working as a rural carrier in Traverse City, every day is different. I deliver the same mail route, but the volume of mail and packages varies from day to day. A big portion of my route also includes a large apartment complex, which gives me a chance to be out of my truck and walking to each building to do my deliveries. I was a sub[stitute] carrier for 11 years and four months, but I’m closing in on two years as a “regular,” with my own route. In the late 2000s, it was hard to get hours, because we had so many subs and routes shrunk immediately as a result of the recession. So, I began filling in wherever I could—14 different post offices, from Manistee to Elk Rapids, Thompsonville to Suttons Bay. The challenge doing that, of course, is not knowing the area and not knowing the case. A route’s case is like a stand-up cubicle, with partitioned shelves with addresses, so we can sort our mail into the order that we deliver it on the route. My current route has over 800 addresses.
Current: The stereotype is that postal workers and dogs are at odds, but we know that you love dogs, including your sweet Golden Retreiver, Morgan. But seriously, how often do you come across less-than-friendly pooches, and what can be done about them?
Bedell: In case of aggressive dogs, the best thing is to avoid them. We can carry either pepper spray or an air horn, in case it’s needed. I have had some very aggressive and large dogs where I needed to deliver a package—if I can’t safely deliver it, I leave a note in their mailbox to inform them why I didn’t leave it and where they can pick it up.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next?
Bedell: There have been numerous changes in the postal service over the 13 years I’ve been there, for myself personally and within the industry. Personally, I finally gained my own route, so that I no longer fill in on numerous routes, and I have a relatively consistent schedule. But for the industry itself, our volume of letter mail has gone down dramatically. To counter that, individual routes have become longer with more addresses, and we have taken on a much larger portion of package delivery. Along with more packages, we deliver “final mile” for UPS and FedEx—what that means is that there is some trading/teaming up going on. UPS and FedEx ship a lot of our packages around by their planes, and they also drop their packages at our USPS offices, then we deliver many of their packages from our office to the address: “final mile.” We deliver a much greater number of Amazon packages and other industry shippers.
Current: Speaking of Amazon, you always read on social media those horror stories about people who have had their packages stolen from their front porch. Do you have any tips for package-receivers?
Bedell: Best ways to protect your delivered packages are with home security cameras and asking someone to collect them for you, if you won’t be home for a while. Also, don’t put your name on your mailbox. Just your address. It’s too easy for thieves to look you up and call your house to see if you’re home.
Current: What should people know about trying to send packages around the holidays?
Bedell: If anybody wants to send packages, cards, etc. during the holidays, be sure to get it out early. Earlier the better, because everyone else is getting behind, too. At least a week early—at least! The overwhelming volume of packages can cause a lot of delays, and you want to make sure that your package gets there on time. We can easily be delivering 200 packages per day per route. Sometimes 300.
Current: What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Bedell: The job suits me, in that, for part of it I’m inside and part I get to be outside. It’s active, so I’m not watching a clock—I’m done when my mail and packages are done. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s the gist. Plus, I get to see people when they get their Christmas packages.
Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?
Bedell: Away from work, I founded and direct two local bicycle groups—one is a road cycling group through Stormcloud Brewery in Frankfort, and the other is a mountain biking and fat tire biking group through Iron Fish Distillery of Thompsonville. The Stormcloud group has been going for six years, and it runs from May through October; we just finished up a few weeks ago. There are about 90 people on my contact list, and we get about two to three dozen riders per week. The Iron Fish group spun out from that, and we use the groomed trails at Crysal Mountain and the Betsie River Pathway, DNR land. Before we got started, I felt like there was a lack of “community” in our area among cyclists. I wanted to build that community and give it an identity. Our Iron Fish group has maintained a small core group of about six to 10 people, with occasional new faces from our area, as well as out-of-towners. Stormcloud cycling has grown over the six summers that we’ve been together, from averaging five people per ride in the first year . We have regular riders from our area, as well as summer people from Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Florida, California, Wisconsin, and more. Along with being director of the cycling groups, I’m working toward developing Bedell Bicycle Works (BBW), an event promotions business that would plan and organize bicycle-based events. I’m also a board member for the Community Cats of Benzie County, an organization designed to help area cats and kittens, mostly strays, through neutering/spaying and finding foster and permanent homes for the younger ones. My part in it is small, but I’m happy and proud to take part.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? How have you seen Benzie County/Northern Michigan change since you grew up here? What are your hopes for the area in the future?
Bedell: I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else than here in the north. But the beauty and character of it comes with its own challenges. Finding careers and affordable living are two of the most prevalent factors. Although the area has grown in the past 10 to 20 years, a lot of that growth has been in summer vacationers and summer residents—“fudgies” and “lakies.” But there are more opportunities for people to maintain a career here with the ability to telecommute. With more residents with children in the schools and careers, they can maintain without having to live in a city; I think more people will be attracted to year-round life here.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area? What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?
Bedell: I would like to see more municipal involvement in the interests of the local people. We live in a resort community, and that’s the financial life blood that keeps our area moving. But I would like to see more year-round involvement for the people that live here. We should have a local skating rink in one of our parks in Frankfort. More amenities on our beaches. More developed trails for biking and hiking. Grow Benzie with Josh Stoltz is a great action group to spearhead a lot of what I think we could use. The more activity, the more local groups, and more resources for careers—I think that would translate to more young adults who would will be interested and able to live here.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?
Bedell: We definitely have a growing choice of places to go for entertainment. Live music and good food and beverages at places like Stormcloud, the Roadhouse, St. Ambrose, Iron Fish, and many more. Trails like Greenpoint and Old Indian. But my neighbor and I are also building our own trail system on our properties for mountain biking, hiking, cyclo-cross, and cross country skiing.
Current: Speaking of, we hear that you live on a long dirt road in the middle of the woods—what is that like for your mail carrier? “Neither snow nor rain…,” right? Do you feel bad for your mail carrier?
Bedell: Well, I have a long dirt driveway, but I’m not on a gravel road. I have a large Rubbermaid garbage barrel strapped to my mailbox for most packages, just to save delivery people some time and effort.
Current: Every year, the major publications outline a “holiday tipping guide” with polite social etiquette on who—and how—you should consider “tipping” or gifting. Dog walkers, hair stylists, trash collectors, personal trainers, etc. Do you ever receive anything from the people on your route? And we know that the U.S. Postal Service has some pretty strict rules on what you can and cannot accept.
Bedell: Yes, I’ve been given quite a bit over the years—gift cards, cookies, and candy. All around Christmas time. [Editor’s Note: According to the USPS, cash is never allowed. Retail gifts cards with a value of less than $20 are allowed, only if they cannot be converted to cash. Read more on the specific rules here.]
Current: What does your perfect winter day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Bedell: With winter coming on, I’m looking forward to afternoons off, when I can ski out my back door with my dog, Morgan, and come back home to a fire in the wood stove and chili to warm me up.
Want to learn more about the Benzie Community Cats project? Check out benziecats.org online. Interested in getting involved with either/both of the biking groups in Benzie County when they start back up in May 2020? Check out Facebook.com/StormcloudCycle or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on the e-mailing list.