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article imageIn the tiny town of Fidelity, Ill., postmaster's heart goes out to Valentine's Day crush

By Carolyn E. Price     Feb 10, 2007 in Lifestyle
Postmaster Peggy Ruyle gets mail sent her way from around the globe just for the postmarking of "Fidelity".
Among thousands of Valentine's Day mail that has been sent to this place over the years for the postmark "Fidelity", a widow's loving plea instantly grabbed at Peggy Ruyle's heartstrings.
Tucked in with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to be given the Fidelity postmark, the old woman's note talk of the regret she felt when she lost her husband a year ago. He had died just six days after his 85th birthday and a few months before the two would have marked their 64th wedding anniversary.
"Among the flowers I will put on his grave" this month, the widow wrote, "I want to include this envelope stamped `Fidelity.'"
Ruyle figures she's read the widow's note a dozen times, and it never gets easier. "I choke up every time. I never got a letter this touching," says Ruyle, 61, who's been postmaster here for 13 years. "I can picture a little man and woman, sitting in a rocking chair or porch swing, just being happy. That's a good picture to have."
At this time of year, Ruyle just loves doing her job and her small role in keeping romance alive, one postmark at a time.
Few ever see this Jersey County outpost with a population of 115. It is little more than a collection of weathered mobile homes 35 miles north of St. Louis and it is well off the beaten path. But each year, people somehow hear about Fidelity and its aluminum-sided, shack-like post office with white shutters. It's the only business in town.
Each year, Ruyle says, a few hundred Valentine's Day envelopes come in from around the globe. She once got one from Thailand. Fifty-three arrivals that came in recently, included return addresses from Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Florida.
Most of the requests include notes simply asking Ruyle for the postmark. Some are collecting postmarks with a shared theme, including Loveland, Colo.; Valentine, Texas; Kissimmee, Fla.; Romeo, Mich.; and Juliet, Ga. Others, like the mournful widow, give Ruyle a window into the sender's soul, "just a little piece of their life".
One woman wanted the enclosed stamped, self-addressed card sent "to my wonderful boyfriend. He is the love of my life and I couldn't be happier with him. It's funny how you meet the ones you fall in love with. We met a year ago at my work. I was working and he was the cute volunteer."
Connie Cooper recently drove 12 miles from the tiny town of Kane to get the Fidelity postmark on 10 "save the date" notices for her daughter's wedding in September. She expects to be back with another 300 wedding invitations. "This is neat, unique. Not many people are blessed with the name Fidelity," Cooper says.
Apparently, the town has a horse to thank for its name. Apparently, in 1829 a Tennessee group passed through the area. When Joseph Russell's horse turned lame and couldn't get him back to Tennessee for business, Samuel Simmons volunteered one of his horses. "That's true fidelity," Mr. Russell supposedly said to Mr. Simmons, who stayed behind and built a log cabin on the site that the town now sits. In 1850, Russell and his brother settled the town and eventually got it named Fidelity. The post office came four years later.
The town has seen better times. It once had an Army barracks, grain elevator, several doctors and dentists, a blacksmith shop and grocery stores. All are now long gone.
"Unfortunately, it's turning into a trailer town," Bohannon says. "People die, people move away and things change."
However, one hundred and fifty three yeras later, the post office is still there. Ms. Ruyle puts her heart into obliging each request, delicately stamping each envelope by hand so the postmark won't smudge and then she sets it aside so that it will dry before she moves on to the next one.
"That's just a small thing, to make somebody happy for just a couple of minutes," said Ruyle, her own marriage more than four decades strong. "It's worth it."
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