By MIKE CORN
CATHARINE -- Carla Weber found herself in the "middle of nowhere" not long after leaving Paradise, but her message once she arrived 20 minutes late in Catharine wasn't what residents wanted.
Her message: Hours for the Catharine Post Office soon will drop to two hours daily during the week and just 75 minutes Saturday. It's a message she's been spreading a lot recently at post offices across northwest Kansas, including the one at Paradise.
Even with a suggestion for still earlier hours, Weber, manager of postal operations for the district that covers Catharine, only was willing to move opening and closing times either 30 minutes forward or back.
If even that was possible, she said.
She was not, however, willing to extend hours at all.
The two hours of operation has become something of the norm for many post offices in northwest Kansas, the victims of extreme cost-cutting by the U.S. Postal Service.
The Catharine community meeting -- attracting six people, two of them employees of the office -- lasted approximately 30 minutes, but only a fraction of that time was spent talking about the Catharine office.
The hours, she said, will run from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Saturdays. Those are the hours, Weber said, justified by mail volume and coinciding with the 10:05 a.m. pickup of outgoing mail.
While Weber sought to talk about everything the USPS does, she soon learned the lease on the building housing the post office soon will lapse, and the owners aren't interested in extending it.
That was the message from Kayleen Schmidt, whose husband, Ramon, is the postmaster.
She also voiced concern about the postal service's plans to remodel the lobby, to allow round-the-clock access to post office boxes.
"The building is 88 years old," she said. "It's in terrible shape."
While Weber initially suggested Schmidt put her questions in writing, she soon said she'd sent a report to her supervisors in Denver about the post office.
She also agreed to travel the two blocks to visit the post office, located in the southeast corner of what once was the Catharine grocery store, to look over the facility.
Weber reiterated her promise to send an email to her supervisor in Denver concerning the building and the concerns of the owner.
After meeting with Weber, Kayleen Schmidt said the lease will be up in December 2015, approximately 15 months after her husband retires as postmaster.
He's one of scores of postmasters who were given a Sept. 30 deadline -- extended to Jan. 1 -- to retire or find another spot within the postal system.
Ramon Schmidt will be retiring in late September.
With the retirement, Kayleen Schmidt said, they're no longer interested in the upkeep and expense that goes along with leasing space to the postal service.
Heated with a wood-burning stove, the Schmidts spend time each winter cutting wood to burn in the former grocery store.
"We get $160 in rent," she said, and that's not even enough to pay utilities, which includes water and electricity.
"They pay for the Internet he has in the building," she said, adding she knows that only because she doesn't write out the check for it.
And the building sorely needs a roof, which would cost $15,000 to replace, which, she said, is more than they want to spend with nearly 18 months left on the lease.