A peek inside the Church's drawers: South Dakota sex abuse scandal

Originally published on the Huffington Post in April 2011. This article was part of a project funded by the George Polk Center for Investigative Reporting.

The letters are casual, even chatty, from officials of St. Francis Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota, to Catholic Church superiors. The mission ran one of many boarding schools to which Native American parents were required to send their children from the late 1800s until the 1970s, when most of the institutions were closed down or transferred to tribal control.
     “All goes along quietly out here,” one priest wrote in 1968 (letter shown at left), with “good religious and lay faculty” at the mission. There are troublesome staffers, though, including Chappy, who is fooling around with little girls—he had them down the basement of our building in the dark, where we found a pair of panties torn. Later that year, Brother Francis Chapman (in the photo below) was still abusing children, though by 1970, he was “a  new man, the reports say. In 1973, Chappy again has difficulty with little girls.
     Some documents are more discreet than explicit. In 1967, two nuns at St. Paul’s Indian Mission, on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, also in South Dakota, had excessive interest in and dealings with older male students, says a report to Church higher-ups. Another nun has “too close a circle of friends, especially two boys.

Francis Chapman ("12") and Paul Frey ("27") were both accused of abuse.
     What ex-students describe as rampant sexual abuse in South Dakotas half-dozen boarding schools occurred against a backdrop of extreme violence. Ill never forget my sisters screams as the nuns beat her with a shovel after a pair of scissors went missing, said Mary Jane Wanna Drum, 64, who attended a Catholic institution in Sisseton, South Dakota, for the children of her tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.
     Izzy Zephier, 62, a Yankton Sioux tribal member, recalled a Sunday-evening ritual at St. Pauls Indian Mission. Those who had tried to run away were stripped, lined up, and given 40 lashes each with a thick rubber strap, he said.
Girls walk to St. Paul's Church along a barbed-wire lined sidewalk.
     Zephier described a prison-like daily routine. We were marched along barbed-wire-lined sidewalks from locked dorms to locked classrooms and back again; in grade school, we went outdoors within a barbed-wire-topped pen. The church building at St. Pauls had its own crown of thorns in those days; it, too, was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, lest worshippers made a run for it. 
     Rather than offering the children protection, the Church typically demanded secrecy, with clergy telling youngsters theyd be punished or go to hell if they told anyone what had happened to them, said several former students, male and female. The Church appears to have kept close track of these activities, though. Every bishop has two sets of files—the public ones and the secret ones chronicling the abuse, said Joelle Casteix, western regional director of Chicago-headquartered support group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). The Church knows what happened when, and it all comes out in court.
South Dakota’s Hail Mary Play
Francis Suttmiller
Starting in 2003, Native Americans in South Dakota, including Zephier and Drum, began filing lawsuits against the Catholic Dioceses of Sioux Falls and Rapid City, as well as the religious orders that ran the schools. The Native plaintiffs came forward in small groups, then ever-larger ones, claiming rape, sodomy, and molestation by priests, nuns, and others. By mid-2010, the number of plaintiffs topped 100, including six who said they were victims of Brother Francis Chapman, who is now deceased. More than 65 other pedophile clerics and Church employees were named, including the late Father Francis Suttmiller, shown right, accused by Zephier and more than a dozen other men and women who were St. Pauls students.
     The lawsuits resulted in the disclosure of Church documents (now public court documents, including those quoted above) that detail the abuse and describe transfers of predators, not all of whom are dead. After complaints about one brother surfaced in South Dakota, he was off to Washington, D.C., where he was convicted of sodomizing young boys there, his recent court testimony shows. Another priest whos still with us, Father Bruce MacArthur, was transferred out of South Dakota, only to embark on a multi-state, multi-parish spree of sexual assaults of children and the disabled, for which he was convicted and imprisoned in the 1970s and again in 2008.

Children and nuns at a South Dakota mission school.
     In March, a South Dakota court dismissed 18 of the Native American lawsuits. The judges opinion cited a 2010 South Dakota law limiting civil actions for childhood sexual abuse after the victim turns 40. The Native plaintiffs are older than that, and one of their lawyers, Gregory A. Yates, of Rapid City, South Dakota, and Los Angeles, charged that their cases had been targeted by the legislature. He asked the judge to reconsider his unusual retroactive ruling (applying a new statute to pre-existing cases).
     On April 1, the judge refused to do so. The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, a defendant in the dismissed suits, did not respond to phone calls requesting a comment. Teresa Kettelkamp, who heads the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops child protection division, said the Church offers healing to sexual-abuse victims, but that civil and criminal matters are in an entirely different sphere.
     Said Zephier, whose suit was thrown out: The statute and the judges decision are insulting. They say the justice system does not protect Native people and does not care that terrible things happened to Native children. Commenting on the section of Pope Benedicts letter to the Church in Ireland, in which the pope favorably compared sex-abuse injuries to Christs wounds, Zephier asked, Did Christs wounds include sodomy?
     SNAP director David G. Clohessy observed that South Dakotas new law swims against the tide of childhood-sexual-abuse prosecutions: Most states are making it easier to expose predators. South Dakota is the only one making it harder.
     Attorney Steven Smith, of Chamberlain, South Dakota, defended the 2010 law, which he wrote and submitted it as a constituent bill." He said plaintiffs are unfairly “trying to grab the brass ring, seeing someone else grab the brass ring, thinking thats your ticket out of squalor.
St Paul's in 2008, with tribal school's graduation tipis.
     Smiths client Congregation of Priests of the Sacred Heart is the defendant in a dozen boarding-school cases, including one involving the convicted sodomite. When speaking to the legislature in support of his bill, Smith described childhood-related cases as hard for the Church to defend against because few people can remember what happened or didnt happen.
     When asked about repentance on the part of the Church, Smith responded, We arent going to throw money [sic] just because of this purported healing process the Church has to go through.
Rolling Back the Stone
Native parents faced severe penalties, including jail time, if they did not send their children to the boarding schools. However, Zephier said, as a young teen he came upon an unexpected escape route: School had just let out for the day, and I realized Id forgotten a couple of books. I ran back into the building, where I found that a priest had a girl on the floor. She was fighting and screaming, ‘let me go. When the priest saw me, he got up and backhanded me hard. I hit him back and yelled to the girl, ‘run, get out of here! I hit the priest five times and knocked him down. The girl took off. The next day, I was expelled.
     Zephier and other ex-students reported reaffirming their traditional spirituality upon leaving school. Drum participates in traditional ceremonies but has not entirely rejected Christianity. I still walk with the Lord, she said, but I cannot even shake hands with a priest.

Update: Since this article was published, the South Dakota Supreme Court has dismissed all Native sexual-abuse cases. Photograph of St. Paul's 2008 by Stephanie Woodard. c. Stephanie Woodard.

American Indian Film Festival honors "The Thick Dark Fog"

Published in Indian Country Today in November 2011. This article was part of a larger project funded by a grant from the George Polk Program for Investigative Reporting.

Director Randy Vasquez’s affecting movie about Walter Littlemoon’s traumatic childhood years in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation boarding schools has just won Best Documentary Feature at the 36th annual American Indian Film Festival, in San Francisco. “By making The Thick Dark Fog, we wanted to give the boarding-school discussion mainstream awareness,” said Vasquez. The film is his second feature; the first was the award-winning 2002 documentary Testimony: The Maria Guardado Story, about a Salvadorean human-rights advocate.

Vasquez and Littlemoon at the festival.
          The honor to The Thick Dark Fog was among many bestowed by the festival, which is produced by the American Indian Film Institute. Best Film went to Shouting Secrets, directed by Korinna Sehringer, while Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Iñupiaq, won Best Director for On The Ice.

          Vasquez, Littlemoon, and his wife, Jane Ridgway, also participated in a special panel discussion on the violent, repressive schools Indian children were required to attend until well into the 20th century and the enduring damage done to Native people, communities, culture and language as a result. Ridgway had collaborated with Littlemoon on the autobiography that inspired the documentary, They Called Me Uncivilized: The Memoir of an Everyday Lakota Man from Wounded Knee (iUniverse, 2009), and appeared in the film.

          An important part of Littlemoon’s journey was figuring out why he experienced alternating flashbacks and sensations of numbness—which he called the “thick dark fog.” After consulting a Harvard Medical School psychological-trauma expert, Littlemoon learned he was suffering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress, which arises from childhood ordeals. Once his fear had a name, he could fight it and win, he said. Littlemoon hoped others would take courage from his discovery and wage their own battles against the debilitating effects of the residential institutions.

          “Several younger people told me seeing the film helped them better understand their parents or grandparents,” said Littlemoon. “One guy was crying after the panel discussion and saying he now realized it was his boarding-school experience that had caused him to fight so much with his parents.”

          The revelations weren’t confined to the Native community, according to Littlemoon: “A Japanese man who’d been imprisoned as a child in World War II concentration camps told me he could now explain to his children how that affected him. I felt the film had impact. We got our message out, and it felt good.”

Ridgway, Littlemoon, Vasquez at panel discussion.
          For Littlemoon and Ridgway, participating in the film festival was satisfying, but also a shock. “Never in our wildest dreams did Walter and I imagine we’d be sitting in a movie theater and seeing ourselves on the big screen,” said Ridgway. “We were swarmed by well-wishers, who expressed gratitude for our bringing this issue forward. Wow. I could have cried right then and there.”

          Native American Public Telecommunications has funded the production of the movie so far; Vasquez is now seeking additional support via www.humanarts.org to ready it for PBS broadcast, probably next fall. In the meantime, he and producer Jonathan Skurnik are submitting the film to more festivals.

          Littlemoon and Ridgway are waiting to hear where they’ll travel next and hoping to screen The Thick Dark Fog on Pine Ridge. “Many of my older generation, who went through boarding school, have drunk themselves to death or just laid down and died,” said Littlemoon. “I want to show those who survive why they’re feeling that way, so they can begin to move on.”

c. Stephanie Woodard; photos courtesy of Randy Vasquez.

Pre-Thanksgiving march will memorialize Iowa’s lost children

Published in Indian Country Today in November 2011. This article was funded in part by a grant from the George Polk Program for Investigative Reporting.

In the days before Thanksgiving, mourners and protesters will participate in the Ninth Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children. The pilgrimage takes walkers from South Sioux City, Nebraska, over the Missouri river and into Sioux City, Iowa, where Native children have for years been swept up by the child-welfare system and even died in its custody. The route evokes the passage of Nebraska tribes, including Poncas, Omahas, Santees and Winnebagos, who came to the city looking for jobs after World War II, as did Sioux people from South Dakota and others.

“They were seeking a better life,” said Frank LaMere, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and executive director of Four Directions Community Center, in Sioux City, which is organizing the march. “But it didn’t work out that way.” The consequences have been devastating for the Native children of Sioux City, surrounding Woodbury County and Iowa as a whole, according to LaMere, who is a national leader in child-welfare and juvenile-justice issues. “If you’re a Native parent in this county, you’re many times more likely to lose your kids than a white parent. In recent years, three of our Native children—Hannah Thomas, Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell and Larissa Starr-Red Owl—have died after being taken from their families. We march to remember them and all the children who have been separated from their families and communities.”

            The march has changed lives. Several years ago, an Internet image of the march inspired a Native boy to stand his ground. “The child had acquiesced to adoption into a white home after years of being told, ‘your people have forgotten about you, your people are drunks and no-goods,’” said LaMere, who was present at a final adjudication in the case. Then one day, the boy was clicking around the Web and saw a photograph of the march. “He was shocked. He told the court he’d been lied to. He said he saw hundreds of people looking for their lost children. ‘They were marching for me,’ the boy said. ‘They were looking for me.’ He balked at the adoption and was returned to his tribe.”

On another occasion, an adoptive family watching a television segment on the march happened to see a Native mother who’d lost her parental rights years before carrying a baby picture they recognized. “All excited, the adoptive mother called me and arranged to bring the child to be reunited with the birth mother,” recalled LaMere.
Events surrounding this year’s march—which is also supported other local groups, including the Community Initiative for Native Children and Families, a coalition of government agencies and nonprofits—begin November 22 with a prayer gathering at 7 p.m. at the Marina Inn, in South Sioux City. The next morning, November 23, at 9 a.m., the marchers progress, rain or shine, into Sioux City, where they stop at the Woodbury County Courthouse and the Department of Human Services. In both places, strangers decide the fate of Native people, according to LaMere.

The reception at each building is expected to be different than it was nine years ago, when a sheriff tried to stop marchers from entering the courthouse, said LaMere. This year, the group will be welcomed and will have an opportunity to read a letter calling for a national investigation into non-compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. “There are no grey areas in ICWA,” said LaMere. “But racist judges, attorneys, guardians ad litem and more are feeding the sytem, making money off our kids with their decisions.”

Two special guests during the event will include Cade and Jace Courtright, 14-year-old Rosebud Sioux twins who’ve just been reunited with their mother with the help of LaMere and Four Directions program director, Judy Yellowbank, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Cade relies on a wheelchair, and Jace is blind, so LaMere suggested the twins meet the march at the Four Directions Community Center dinner that closes the event. However, the boys insisted on making the journey with the other marchers. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to make that happen,” said LaMere. “An elder once told us that the prayers of children are very powerful, more powerful than those of adults. Those boys’ presence during this time is a gift to us.”

Things are changing in Woodbury County, he added. “When it comes to Native child-welfare decisions, we have a place at the table now, along with the Department of Human Services. They even support our parenting and leadership programs. We can hold their feet to the fire on the issues, and no matter how heated the meetings get, we come away from them knowing we are going to move forward together, as collaborators. We in the Woodbury County Native community are winning the battle to keep our families together, one family, one child at a time.”

Recently, LaMere sat in on a meeting concerning an Omaha child. The judge announced that the tribe had intervened, and the child was going home. “Everyone’s jaws dropped, including mine. Hopefully, the good we see growing here will spread, and more of our children nationwide will be going—and staying—home.”                                                                           c. Stephanie Woodard

Post office closings threaten Native voting rights

A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Today in October 2011.

Indian reservation post offices are on the list of 3,600-plus branches the U.S. Postal Service wants to eliminate in order to help fix the agency’s multi-billion-dollar annual deficits. One office on the list is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Nation in Arizona, two more branches are on the Coeur D’Alene’s Idaho reservation, and three are in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe communities in South Dakota; these and numerous additional reservation branches nationwide may close their doors.

And that may close the door on the voting rights of tribal members who depend on them, says O.J. Semans, Sicangu Lakota, head of voting-rights group Four Directions. “Getting rid of post offices in Indian country would have a dramatic effect on access to voting,” he says. “In Nevada, for instance, about half of the 27 tribes rely heavily on the post office to register and to vote. Here in South Dakota, the state has Native American Indians to rely on the mail for voting. The 2010 national election was a good example of this, in that the state pushed for reservation voters to use mail-in absentee ballots—which required them to go to the post office three times: to request, receive and return the ballot.”

Wounded Knee residents checking their mail.

Four Directions’ legal director Greg Lembrich, senior associate at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, recalls that at the National Congress of American Indians’ Native Vote Core Working Group meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, several tribal representatives spoke of the success certain tribes and community groups had achieved with vote-by-mail efforts. “They’ve had a tremendous impact on raising voter turnout on several reservations,” says Lembrich. He calls the post office “crucial” to registration and voting by Native Americans, who may not have home delivery, so need that local branch in place in order to use the mail. 

The USPS doesn’t know how many of the targeted branches are on reservations, according to spokesperson Pete Nowacki, but a look at the list indicates that in Arizona, 5 of the 11 closings appear to be on reservations, including the homelands of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and White Mountain Apache Tribe, while some 10 of 80 South Dakota closings are. Critics of the USPS plans, including Senator Tim Johnson (D.-South Dakota), have noted that shutting every single one of the 3,600-plus offices on the list would save just seven-tenths of one percent of the agency’s annual operating budget.

Native voters facing the loss of their local branch can’t rely on the 1965 Voting Rights Act to protect their access to voting via mail—and by extension, their post office—according to Laughlin McDonald, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project. VRA’s prohibitions against actions limiting enfranchisement are directed at states and other local jurisdictions, but not at the federal government or its agencies, he says.

Elisabeth MacNamara, national president of the League of Women Voters, points out that the USPS isn’t closing branches with the express purpose of affecting voting. However, the idea is part of what she calls “a systemic whole,” along with other new barriers to the ballot box, such as additional identification requirements and obstacles to registration. “Across the country, I see the impact of the new voting laws falling on underserved communities, not on suburban America,” MacNamara says. “Those living in suburban America, who have so many conveniences and aren’t reliant on the post office for voting, have a duty think of others with less privileges and access.”

In Congressional testimony earlier this year, the chairperson of the Postal Regulatory Commission, Ruth Y. Goldway, expressed similar concerns: “A sizeable part of the U.S. population depends on the mail to manage their lives and stay connected with their government,” she said. She pointed to a Commerce Department study showing that in 2009, 31 percent of American households didn’t have Internet access. “Statistically, they are disproportionately poor, less educated and underemployed. But in a universal mail service network, they are served. They are connected.”

Our rush to save money nowadays can cause unforeseen problems, MacNamara says: “In these trying times, when we’re cutting budgets, we must be aware of unintended consequences. The U.S. Postal Service was thinking of its budget when it compiled the list of potential closings, but the agency, the public and elected officials need to be aware of additional impacts, such as those on voting.”

What’s a community about to lose its local branch to do? “People need to tell their elected officials to give very serious consideration to the effect that the closings will have on minority communities,” says McDonald.

Semans agrees: “I’d suggest that tribes contact their congressional delegations, explaining the effect the loss of a post office would have on many essentials, but certainly on the ability to vote. That way, their representatives can consider these issues as they chose between the several bills now working their way through the House and Senate.”

To see if your branch may close and read about more ways to protect it, please read “Wounded Knee Post Office Under Siege,” the next post.

c. Stephanie Woodard; photo courtesy of Jane Ridgway.

Wounded Knee post office under siege

A version of this article appeared in Indian Country Today in October 2011.

Wounded Knee resident Walter Littlemoon checks his mail.
Residents of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, are facing the latest assault on their community with dread. Their local post office is on a list of branches the United States Postal Service wants to close to help erase the agency’s multi-billion-dollar annual deficits. The Wounded Knee outlet joins more than 3,600 others in the crosshairs, including other post offices on Indian reservations.

The mucilage that holds stamps onto envelopes may still be working, but USPS itself appears to be coming unglued. Will the many proposed closing even make a dent in the agency’s deficit? Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who opposes the idea, says a Postal Regulatory Commission study found that getting rid of all 3,600-some would save less than seven tenths of one percent of the USPS operating budget. For those in Wounded Knee, the consequences are clear. “Closing our branch may sound like a solution, but it would create terrible hardships for us,” says resident Walter Littlemoon, Oglala Lakota.

The Wounded Knee branch, shown right as it appeared in the late 1800s, was already a fixture in the village when the infamous 1890 massacre occurred. The first newspaper accounts of the event were penned in a cabin behind it, and the postmaster’s house sheltered some of the victims, according to an application to the National Trust for Historic Places. Today, the branch provides the tiny village the lifeline to the world that the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned when they gave Congress the power to establish a postal system, along with the ability to pass laws, coin money and regulate trade.

“We don’t have stores in the village, nor do we have computers that would let us order essentials electronically, so we typically mail-order clothes, shoes and other items,” says Littlemoon.

What commerce there is—mostly sales of crafts—relies on the post office, as artisans receive materials and ship finished items via the post, says his wife, Jane Ridgway. “Unemployment here is around 80 percent, so disrupting the little economic activity that exists would have serious consequences,” she says.

Without a local branch, bill paying would also become difficult, says resident Anita Ecoffey, Oglala Lakota. “Most residents use money orders, which they get at the post office. And there are the medication refills many get through the mail.”

Nor do most villagers have vehicles, so they walk to the post office. Indeed, they often walk—to visit neighbors, to run errands. Standing on a hill overlooking the village, this reporter saw folks tramping around Wounded Knee’s hills and dales. When they get to highways, they hitchhike, a dangerous proposition on high-speed roads with no sidewalks. As a result, picking up mail at the Porcupine, South Dakota, branch, which Ecoffey says has been mentioned as an option for Wounded Knee residents, would be a substantial, and perilous, trek: at least 16 miles, round-trip. “That’s just not possible,” she says.

Allen is another Pine Ridge hamlet that may lose its post office. If its residents have to go to Porcupine for mail, they’ll travel 72 miles, some of it over the worst road imaginable. Those making decisions in far-away cities may not realize how huge the distances can be between rural towns and how difficult the journeys, Ecoffey says.

Winter and its heavy snows will exacerbate the problems, adds her husband, Frank Ecoffey, Oglala Lakota. He also points out that Federal Express and other private companies aren’t a substitute, since they often drop off deliveries at, you guessed it, the post office.

“We’ve been through such struggles to keep our branch,” Anita says. “The old one burned down during the 1973 militant takeover of the community, and I served as interim postmistress for several months. We finally got regular staff and then the current building.” She termed “crazy” the latest assault on zip code 57794. “Officials came from Rapid City to talk to us about it but couldn’t really explain why this might happen.”

Media attention has focused on the many activities—bill paying, ordering goods and more—that used to happen via the post but have moved to the Internet, resulting in a drop in mail volume and associated revenue. Also, the soft economy has meant less advertising, so less “junk” mail.

Far more important, according to Ruth Y. Goldway, chairperson of the Postal Regulatory Commission, the USPS is staggering under a financial burden placed on it during good economic times. In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, requiring the postal service to pre-pay 75 years’ worth of retirees’ health claims over the course of just 10 years.

It was an ill-advised idea that followed several years during which the USPS had modest surpluses, says Sally Davidow, spokesperson for the American Postal Workers Union: “No other private company or government agency is required to do this. Every year, before the post office sells its first stamp, it’s $5.5 billion in debt.” And there’s more: pension funds have significantly overcharged the service. Goldway says the excess payments are $50–$55 billion. Some estimates run as high as $75 billion, says Davidow.

In the meantime, the USPS has cut billions from its expenditures. It’s looking for more, though. On October 4, Senator Johnson told Wounded Knee residents he’d look for cost-cutting that would save their post office. “While I recognize the fiscal challenges the agency is facing, I am committed to ensuring the Postal Service continues to fulfill the universal service mandate,” he told them.”

Why are some eager to strip down the USPS? Consumer advocate Ralph Nader accuses them of trying to clear the way for private companies to nab the lucrative delivery routes, leaving the rest of the country in the lurch and creating “great damage to our economy.”

Voting rights may also suffer, with a possible disproportionate effect on Native people. “On reservations with small far-flung populations, voter registration and absentee voting largely depend on local post offices,” says Greg Lembrich, legal director of the voting-rights group Four Directions and a senior associate at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. The USPS does not have figures for the number of reservation branches tagged for closing, according to spokesperson Pete Nowacki. However, the official list indicates that 5 of 11 Arizona closings appear to be on Indian reservations; in South Dakota, it’s about 10 out of 80. 

Lembrich considers the applicability of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits actions that diminish minority enfranchisement: “Because the Voting Rights Acts applies to actions by states, counties and local governments — not the federal government and its agencies — we have an unfortunate situation in which the federal government and USPS are able to do something impacting voting that the states and other small governments probably could not.” This does not preclude legal options such as filing a lawsuit, Lembrich adds, but may limit them.

Littlemoon says Wounded Knee residents are not hopeful. “We feel it’s a done deal and that we’re being punished for a problem we did not cause.” Meanwhile, Wounded Knee’s postmistress is busy dispensing stamps, sorting mail and keeping the community humming. But for how long?

Stamp Dance
You can take steps to preserve your local post office, says USPS spokesperson Pete Nowacki: “Tell us your concerns during the public comment period for your branch. Each location has its own timetable, which should be posted in the lobby. Send comments to the address on the notice, and please be specific. We understand you don’t want your branch to close, but we need to know your precise concerns, including the distance to alternative offices, security issues with roadside boxes, and whatever else is important.”

If you lose your branch, don’t give up, says South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson: “Customers will have the option to appeal.” Nowicki notes that 50 locations slated for closing have already received reprieves and will remain open. To see if your branch may close, go to http://about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/expandedaccess/statelist.htm.

c. Stephanie Woodard; photo courtesy of Jane Ridgway.