Lacoochee – Bernice Parham



Postmaster Bernice Parham Retires

(July 29, 1903 – Dec. 17, 1990)

Bernice Parham, Lacoochee postmaster


On Friday morning, June 29, 1973, Mrs. Bernice Parham will leave her home on Franklin Street in Lacoochee, Florida, and drive the short distance to the Post Office. She will turn the key in the lock, just as she has done for the past 38½ years, enter the familiar premises and begin to prepare her records to receive the Postal Inspector. However, this day will be different from all the other days that she has faithfully and efficiently served this community in the heart of Florida. Today, the Postal Inspector will check Mrs. Parham’s well kept records and officially retire her as Postmaster of Lacoochee.

It all began such a long time ago, December 29, 1934, to be exact. But to Mrs. Parham it does not seem as though 38½ a years have actually passed, even though she has seen so many changes in the Postal System. When she was confirmed as Postmaster, Franklin D. Roosevelt was President and James A. Farley the Postmaster General. The United States had just begun to recover from a depression that had changed the status of this particular Post Office, established in 1888, from a third class unit to a fourth class office. It was to remain so until July 1, 1935, when once again it was designated a third class Post Office.

During the years from 1934 until 1973, Mrs. Parham has served the more than 2,000 people who lived in Lacoochee with diligence and friendship. She has seen the postage rate escalate from the 3¢ stamp to the present 8¢ stamp and post cards range in price from 1¢ to 6¢. While she has been Postmaster, the Postal Reform Act, which President Richard M. Nixon signed into law August 12, 1970, created a government owned postal service under the Executive branch, which officially came into being on July 1, 1971, replacing the old Post Office Department and bringing with it many changes in the mail system. She has watched her postal patrons struggle valiantly in an effort to remember the Zip Code number for their mail’s destination and the Zip Code directory become the “bible” that must constantly be referred to during a days business. In the years that have passed, the Post Office Department has become the largest single business in the world; hiring more than 696,000 employees to handle the billions of pieces of mail that are delivered each year in the United States.

Mrs. Parham recalls that, as a young wife with three small children, she had never before sought a career outside her home. But, when her husband, Joe, became ill, such an idea was receptive to her. The position of Postmaster was to be filled and, encouraged by Mrs. C. D. May (one of Lacoochee’s most prominent citizens) who saw the ability in Mrs. Parham to properly run the Post Office, she consented that her name be placed for appointment to this position. Her appointment was confirmed on December 11, 1934, then on the 29th of December, 1934, she received her first commission from Postmaster General, James A. Farley, and thus began a long and distinguished career.

When her Post Office was changed to a Third class office, her second commission was issued July 1, 1935, and personally signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as James A. Farley, Postmaster General. Her final commission, September 13, 1940, was also signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Postmaster General at that time was Frank C. Walker. President Roosevelt had then changed the Postmaster position to a permanent one so this was to be Mrs. Parham’s final commission to the position of Postmaster of Lacoochee.

In the years that have so quickly passed, Mrs. Parham has been capably assisted by quite an array of local women, who served at different times as her Clerk. When, frightened and a little overwhelmed by the complicated governmental records that had always to be accurate to the penny, Mrs. Parham began her duties, she had as her Clerk, Mrs. Cora McLeod; followed by:

(Clerks names are not listed in the order of their service) Louise Staryos Wainwright Missie Lee Morgan Mae Quick Pierce Marvin Rogers Lillie V. Kirkland Alyce Ferrell McMahon Hannah R. Jones Mae Forsyth Corrine Cannon Miriam Berkstresser Pire Mary Ann Waldroff Delores Waldroff Jessie Moore Alice Hyatt Helen Hancock Walters Mescal Boyett Kathleen Kirkman James Parham (her son) Opal Curry Marion Sedwick Mildred Polk Hartzog Joyce Crum Sasser G. J. Pedrick Artie Mae Taylor Lorise Abraham

Having the distinction of serving as Clerks for the longest period of time are:

Mrs. Ruth Kauffman, 13½ years Mrs. Shirley Burke, 7 years

Both of whom will be on hand the day Mrs. Parham officially terminates her position.

Mrs. Parham recalls sentimentally that her first Post Office was located in the Jensen building from January 1935 until September 1948, when it was moved to newer facilities in its present location in the May Building. Even for those days her office was rather primitive. The furniture was all hand made and the public was served from two small metal windows, equipped with tiny bars, through which she saw much of Lacoochee’s population each day. The only heat available was from a small wood burning stove that tried gallantly to heat at least the inner office.

The Seaboard railroad and Coastline railroad depots were across the road (State Road 575) from the Post Office and all mail went to and came from the Depots. Heavy canvas sacks of mail were dropped from speeding trains, picked up and delivered to the Post Office by many local men. Serving in that capacity but at different times were:

J. C. Wright Jim Rhodes (Seaboard Agent) George Simpson Andrew Darley M. C. Roberts James Campbell William Clark

These men would then pick up the outgoing mail and carry it by hand to the Depot where the sack was hung on a mail crane, from which the trains would “snatch” the bag as it passed through town. Today mail is delivered via truck by A. B. Muse and his assistants:

Fred Gill Vance Forbes

When the Postal Inspector comes, for some people it could be a nerve-wracking experience because, as in all governmental agencies, complicated records must be meticulously kept and readily accountable both in inventory and money. But, because she took her duties as Postmaster seriously, Mrs. Parham confidently and calmly received each Inspector. it is to her credit that the Lacoochee Post Office received quite a few “A” 100% inspections.

“Mr. H. G. Reese was my very first Inspector,” recalls Mrs. Parham, “and he helped me in so many ways. When I first became Postmaster all the mail boxes were rented from a Post Office Supply Company, which I had to pay from my salary. The revenue received from the rent of these boxes, however, was sent to the Government. Mr. Reese explained the procedure I should go through to have the Government furnish the boxes, thus sparing me that extra expense.”

“Postal employees were not as well paid in those days are they are now. I remember particularly that one of my clerks, Mrs. Alice Hyatt, worked an 8 hour day and received $25.00 a month in wages.”

The Inspectors to follow Mr. Reese, through the years, were:

C. M. Griffith (Inspector for 15 years. Now retired and living in Sulphur Springs. Florida) J. O. Thomas E. M. Little J. W. Rich T. E. Shelton J. D. Goodrich E. C. Zeburh

Mrs. Parham, the daughter of Cora Z. and James Lawrence Smith, was born July 29, 1903, in Fellowship, Florida (near Ocala). After completing her schooling she married Joel Alexander Parham of Morriston, Florida, on December 8, 1921.

Mrs. Parham’s father opened a General store in the then-thriving community of Lacoochee, where Cummer Sons Cypress Company had recently built a saw mill. In 1923 she and Joe moved to Lacoochee to make their home. Their first son, Joe Alexander, was born in Ocala on December 24, 1923, followed in 1930 by James Lawrence, and in 1932 their only daughter, Cora Ann was born.

During the anxious years of World War II, Mrs. Parham became even more closely attached to her patrons as she waited eagerly with them to receive letters from loved ones serving in the Armed Forces. “Everyone would receive a letter,” she recalls, “but Joe and me!” “Our son, Joe, serving as a Marine in the South Pacific, was attached to a Night Fighter Squadron, and he never seemed to have time to write letters home.”

Young Joe was only 17, a graduate of Pasco High School and a Freshman at the University of Florida, when he expressed the desire to join the Marine Corps. With parental consent, he enlisted and, after a brief period of training, was sent almost immediately overseas. Joe and Bernice Parham were not to see their oldest son again for 15 long and anxious months. When, finally, young Joe was returned to the States, it was only a short time before he was once again sent overseas, this time to the island of Okinawa. While he was there, the peace treaty with Japan was signed and Joe was sent as part of the occupation forces to China. After his tour of duty in China, he received an Honorable discharge from the Marines but remained in the Reserves. He married Kathyrn Lawrence and they had four children, Laura, Linda, Larry, and Gary. Joe found that he was too much a service oriented person to remain in civilian life so he returned to active duty and was subsequently sent to Japan, where he held the rank of Master Sergeant as Information Chief.

But the man who loved the Marines and who had survived many fierce battles in the South Pacific was not to return from his peacetime tour of duty. In February, 1962, while crossing a double railroad track in Iwakuni, Japan, he was killed by a passing train.

His wife Kathyrn and their children continued to make their home in Jacksonville and remain in close touch with the Parhams. On July 31, 1970, Kathyrn was married to Arthur Flowers, Jr., who has the same love and devotion for Mrs. Parham as her own children.

The Parham’s son, James, also attended schools in Pasco County and was a 1953 graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Immediately after graduation, he and his wife, the former Edna Anderson of Dade City, moved to Dallas, Texas, where James had accepted a position with the Chance Vought Aircraft Company. In 1958 he began a distinguished career with the Martin Company in Denver, Colorado. James was part of the team who worked on the Skylab project, presently making headline news orbiting the Earth. He and Edna have three children, Debbie, Bruce, and Keith.

Cora Ann, not to be outdone by the achievements of her brothers, completed her schooling in Pasco County, then went to Alachua General Hospital in Gainesville, where she completed her training as a Nurse in September, 1954.

She worked as a graduate nurse in Bay Memorial Hospital, Panama City, taking her State Board examination in November, 1954.

In 1955, Cora Ann met and married Kent Ball, who was a Flight Engineer in the Air Force. Cora and Kent have two daughters, Denise and Dania Lee. Since Kent retired from the Air Force they have made their home in South Carolina.

As the years went by her husband Joe’s health began to fail even more. In her courageous way, Mrs. Parham managed not only to fulfill her duties as Postmaster but to care for her ailing husband too. But Joe, saddened by his younger brother’s sudden death and the terrible loss of their son in Japan, combined with the effects of an illness of long years duration, succumbed on September 17, 1964.

Joe was always extremely proud of his wife’s outstanding record as Postmaster, as were their children. Although her many duties as Postmaster kept her extremely busy, her family never lacked for the attention and care of a devoted Wife and Mother.

As Postmaster in a small community, Mrs. Parham was well acquainted with all the people living there and they in turn felt a close personal friendship with her. All will most certainly miss her presence in the Lacoochee Post Office.

What does one do after 38½ years on the same job when the time comes to retire? When asked this question, Mrs. Parham smiled and said, “Well, I simply can’t stop and do nothing. I will begin by doing the extra things around my home that I have not had the time to do. I really look forward to having the time to visit with my children and their families and to travel abroad. Several years ago I took a tour of the Far East, traveling to Hawaii, Japan, Bangkok, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. A trip I enjoyed very much. Now, I have plans to someday visit the country of Spain. In the meantime, I want to learn to work Crewel embroidery and to catch up on a lot of reading. And, of course, I wii] make that daily trip to the Post Office but this time oniy to see if I have any mail!”

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