Carrying on: At age 80, an Anchorage mail carrier has served the same neighborhood for nearly a half-century

Charles Seamans says his U.S. Postal Service job has been like a hobby. His connections to the Turnagain community make thoughts of retiring difficult.

Charles Seamans sat in his mail truck, read the newspaper and finished his third ice cream bar of the day. It was 10 a.m.

He ramped up slowly that September morning before carrying on his life’s work, delivering letters and packages to the people of Anchorage’s Turnagain neighborhood. Seamans, who turned 80 weeks earlier, has been carrying mail here for 48 years.

When he stepped onto Lord Baranof Drive, he carried a handful of letters and a head full of irreplicable neighborhood knowledge. In all these years, he has never regularly held another route and, due to his seniority, he’ll never need to. But to say he’s familiar with Turnagain understates his connection. For decades he has braided himself into the lives within his 366-house zone.

“I’ve got so many friends,” he said.

Turnagain, with its tidy, in-demand homes ranging from modest ranches to sprawling coastal fortresses, is special for its community-mindedness, in Seamans’ view. Some families on his route — the civic leaders, judges, business titans and influence-wielding families among them — have lived there for as long as Seamans has walked the beat. To walk at his side as he delivers mail is to absorb stories of how each fits into the Turnagain and Anchorage milieu.

“He knows everybody in this neighborhood and what they do and who they work for and so on,” said customer and longtime friend Dean Nelson.

They have a lot to talk about when he comes around. “The post office (work) is almost secondary to the constant socializing,” he said.

Lately, retirement has been on his mind, something he could’ve chosen to do long ago. He still loves the job, but has been wondering how long he can keep the pace. He dreads the idea of losing touch with this community.


“Some people don’t want to know anybody, they don’t want to be involved in any way. And that’s fine, whatever works for them,” he said. “But that’s just not me.”

On the road

In brisk morning air, Seamans sets out in short sleeves, alternating between walking up driveways and driving to curbside stands. From his street-level view, he’s seen society change around him in the half century he’s been on the Turnagain mail route.

The way he tells it, there was a time when people rarely had the post office hold their mail during vacations, because their neighbor would obviously scoop it up and leave it inside. They probably had the key. If a resident saw Seamans hefting a large box, he or she would come outside to help.

“Now, the younger people, they’ll wait in the doorway,” he said.

Humanity is increasingly “stuck,” as he puts it, paying each other less and less mind, nose-deep in a world of glowing screens.

“It’s separating people,” he said of cellphones. He’s never had one.

Still, even after all these years, his joy in the job overwhelms the concerning parts. Seamans’ anecdotes bounce from one memorable interaction to another while he walks. Like the time he helped a man with dementia get safely inside. Or instances he’s been called on to mediate when neighbors squabble. Or a few decades ago, when he kept an eye on children after a snowstorm.

“That’s what I love, that give and take. I’m not a stranger pulling in,” he said.

Dean Nelson said he got to know Seamans shortly after he moved into the neighborhood 40 years ago. Before long, Seamans would come by to socialize. Eventually, he would house-sit for Nelson and his wife for months at a time.

“At one time I thought, Jesus, we ought to adopt Charles. We just got along very well with him,” Nelson said.

Such bonds grew in every direction on his route. Weeks ago, Seamans visited his longtime friend, Mary Ann Swalling. The two sat on her couch and reminisced about her parents, who Seamans had also known. They recalled parties he had attended in her yard.

Seamans had been Swalling’s mailman since he began his career. Asked if it seemed unusual, in this day and age, for a person to know her mailman so well, Swalling said she had no frame of reference.


“I don’t know anything different,” she said.

A few blocks later that day, Seamans stood with Mike Miller in his driveway to chat. Over the years, Seamans has been Miller’s mailman at three different homes. Seamans has known Miller’s kids since they were born, Miller said, and now his daughter has a child of her own. They now live on Seamans’ route too.

“In everything that goes on, in all the change and everything, Charles has been the one constant in my life,” Miller said. “The one constant. He’s always been there.”

The hobbyist

Seamans, never married, has long kept a modest apartment in South Anchorage. The space is as complex as its keeper, crowded with his interests. Stacks of books, newspapers and magazines cover tables and furniture, sharing space with an impressive and varied art collection he can talk about at length, items he’s gathered from around the world. A sword from Thailand, a rare bracelet, a painting of Queen Elizabeth.

“I’ve been to 66 countries,” he said.

Details of his life come to light in a puzzle of stories that require some assembly. Seamans sometimes answers questions with stories that are richly detailed, but broad in scope, often departing on tangents. He mentions that he has two homes in upstate New York that have long been in his family and where he often spends time. Or that he once worked as a Cambodian linguist and as a model.


Seamans came to Alaska for the first time in the early ‘70s with a friend. On a second visit, he took an exam for a postal career — a lark at the time — and decided to stay when he landed a job as a mail handler in 1974. The following year, he was assigned his first route as a carrier and he has held it since.

He describes his job as a hobby, one that has never been motivated by money.

“You’re not worth anything unless you bring something to the table,” he said, leaning on the bumper of his mail rig, midway through his route. “When I look over this whole thing, it is a success.”

The evidence? People stop him constantly to talk, he said. They leave him bags of books or cookies. They hug him after he returns from vacation or bring him chocolate when they return from theirs. Sometimes, there’s so much positive attention that it can feel challenging.

Michael Hovanec, who spent five years as either Seamans’ manager or supervisor at the Postal Service’s Spenard station, said Seamans was a good mailman and gladly took on extra work. While it’s possible a carrier’s community rapport could become a distraction, he hardly heard complaints of Seamans. More likely, Hovanec would hear stories from co-workers and customers about small ways he had helped them out.

“That’s helping out the community, and I just feel that is the best for the company,” Hovanec said. “I was proud to have him at my station.”


The most difficult thing

On a recent day off, Seamans splayed mementos from his life on the dining room table of a home where he regularly housesits: the clipping of a 1981 newspaper story about him, photos of his land in upstate New York, a certificate of appreciation from the Postal Service. While he talked, he touched a bulge on his chest, a recently-installed monitor for atrial fibrillation. It connects to an app in his pocket.

“I don’t have a cellphone, so they gave me a cellphone to go with it,” he said.

On the app, there’s a button marked “Tap for details,” but Seamans is afraid to tap it. He says he isn’t concerned about his heart. He beat cancer and recovered from a retinal tear near the turn of the century, but has otherwise enjoyed relatively good health since then, he said. He’s rarely slowed, even by common colds.

Nonetheless, aging has been “interesting,” he said. “Once in a while, you find yourself a little delicate,” he said. Like when it seems difficult to get up from the low chair where he reads his history and biography books. Or when he notices that a plush carpet is enough to throw him off momentarily when he gets out of bed.

Sometimes, looking in the quiet solitude of the bathroom mirror, he asks himself hard questions about continuing to work.

“I’m not excited about being 80,” he said.

Thoughts of winding down his career are even more overwhelming. “Retiring is going to be the most difficult thing I do,” he said. “It’s like going to a cliff and dropping off, I think. I’m afraid to think about it.”

Friends rallied for his 80th birthday, co-hosted in early September by longtime Anchorage radio voice Bede Trantina, who has been Seamans’ customer for 34 years.


“Eighty years old, 50 years of being in the community, it just seemed like of course we’re going to have a party,” Trantina said.

About two dozen current and former customers showed. Charles wore a sparkling top hat. In conversations over the years, Trantina said non-Turnagain people sometimes seem surprised that she talks of her mailman like a friend.

“It’s just like having the trees that we have out here,” she said. “We remember when they were smaller and younger, and now they’re just part of the neighborhood.”

Seamans said one friend has told him they could probably fill a ballroom at the Hotel Captain Cook to celebrate when he retires. But he thinks it would be too emotional. “It would be a final thing,” he said.

Current customers say they’ll believe he’s retired when they see it. Others say they dread the day.

“I can’t imagine it. I’ll just be crestfallen when it happens,” said Mike Miller, 73. “It just reminds me how old I’m getting.”

Whenever Seamans decides to hand off his daily duties, he said he’ll look back on something extraordinary.

“It amazes me, when I step back, how much I’m a part of it,” Seamans said. “Not just the mailman.”

Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at