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Chris Smith: A big last day for a ’first class’ Santa Rosa mail carrier

Hmm, here’s a balloon tied to a curbside mailbox. Career Postal Service carrier Tim Vega didn’t think much of it — until he noticed last week that a balloon was strung, too, to the next mailbox on his east Santa Rosa route.

And to the next, and the next. And alongside many of the balloons were handmade signs thanking him and wishing him well.

Vega had worked that route near Maria Carrillo High School for half of his 36 years with the USPS. When he spotted the balloons and signs last Monday he was making his final deliveries before going into retirement.

He got right on the phone to his wife, Melody.

“There’s a balloon on every single mailbox out here,” he told her. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He suggested that Melody come see.

Unbeknownst to the 59-year-old mail carrier, spies along his route were watching him on Aug. 31 and sharing intelligence on where he was at any given moment. His wife arrived in the neighborhood up from Calistoga Road just as he pulled onto a cul-de-sac.

There, this great cheer arose from a crowd of masked, appropriately distanced neighbors who’d gathered for an elaborate, last-day-on-the-job ambush.

The residents of 70 homes had pooled money as a gift that they presented to their thoroughly blown-away mailman. Several neighbors mentioned to me that beyond being punctual and trustworthy and all that, Tim Vega has been a sheer joy.

“We planned this for weeks,” said a main instigator of the surprise send-off, Bob Enochs. Learning from Vega months ago that he was approaching retirement, Enochs and his wife, Sharyn, took up an out-of-date Neighborhood Watch email list and asked in messages to neighbors if they’d like to come together and do something for their mailman’s last day.

“I got a tremendous response,” Bob Enochs said. That didn’t surprise him, given how fond everyone is of Vega.

“Tim’s just a great guy. He’s so funny and personable.,” Enochs said.

Sometimes Vega would deliver Enochs a mail-order package and Enochs would hand it back and ask, “Hey, Tim, is this a keeper?” The carrier would hoist the parcel, give it a shake, then say, “Oh, yeah, Bob. It’s a keeper.”

Said another fan, Beth Pitchford, “Your mail carrier delivers your life in a lot of ways. But they don’t necessarily have a personal relationship with you. Tim does.”

For Vega, stopping to talk to and really get to know the people in the 70 homes at the end of his nearly 500-patron route was a huge benefit of the work.

“I know things about them. They know things about me,” said the talkative, sociable and now retired mail carrier.

In addition to the cash gift, residents presented Vega with individual farewell presents. As he drove out of the neighborhood, his USPS van trailed 70 balloons that had been tied to the rear.

“It was fantastic,” said the former government employee with a refreshed sense of awe in human nature.

As a bonus of the conspiracy to send him off in grand style, the neighbors on his former route are feeling good about having come together and they’ve got an updated email list.

...

WHO REMEMBERS that in 1972, during the Vietnam war and the Nixon presidency and the period of great unrest, somebody tried to blow up 50 military vehicles outside the National Guard armory in Santa Rosa?

You can believe retired CHP Officer Jack Symons Jr. remembers.

Symons was on patrol on Cleveland Avenue, near Coddingtown, at about 12:15 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8, when he noticed flames to the east. He rushed across Highway 101 to the 579th Engineering Battalion armory on Armory Drive, near SRJC.

Seeing flames on the ground near the dozens of National Guard trucks, jeeps and other vehicles, Symons tossed a fire extinguisher over the chain-link fence, scaled the fence and attacked the fire.

It was very dark, of course, so the CHP officer stared at something on the ground for some time before finally recognizing what it was.

The saboteurs had set fire to a rope wick that ran from a corner of the armory lot to the military trucks parked close together and side by side. The wick was strung between 5-gallon fuel cans.

“Every vehicle had the gas cap off and rags were stuffed into the fuel tanks, with the rags feeding to the wick,” Symons recounted just the other day. “One was a tanker truck full of fuel.”

He will admit that his blood ran cold to imagine if those trucks had blown and had done so while he still inside the fence. But he successfully doused the fire short of the trucks.

He was credited with preventing the destruction of $500,000 worth of National Guard vehicles and who knows what else.

In April of 1973, the Exchange Club of Santa Rosa paid tribute to his valor and quick action by honoring him as the Sonoma County Peace Officer of the Year. Symons was presented a wooden, engraved plaque and a letter of congratulations from J. Edgar Hoover, who at the time of the attempted sabotage of the armory was director of the FBI.

Retired officer Symons, now 80, still had and valued the plaque when the Tubbs fire of 2017 destroyed his and his wife Sharon’s home in Larkfield. The tragedy struck on the couple’s 57th wedding anniversary.

Not long ago, members of the Exchange Club learned of the loss. Days ago they invited Symons and his wife, who live now in Cloverdale, to a club meeting at the Mary’s Pizza Shack on Marlow Road.

And they presented him a replacement to the 1973 Peace Officer of the Year plaque that burned.

Symons eyed it, then he said, “I think this one is nicer.”

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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