Leader carrier retires after 34 years

Yellow bike a familiar site on Shawano streets since 2014
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Leader photo by Carol Ryczek Erv Steinke delivers a Shawano Leader to the Shawano County Courthouse for the last time. Steinke retired last week after 34 years on the job as a newspaper carrier.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor even polar vortex could keep Erv Steinke from his appointed route.

Steinke ran into a few problems since beginning his Shawano Leader paper route 34 years ago, and even he had to admit that the brutal cold of this winter took its toll, but nothing stood between Steinke and his commitment to bringing his customers the news.

However, time can do what even freezing weather cannot. On Friday, Steinke retired.

Erv started delivering what was then the Shawano Evening Leader in 1985. That year, among other noteworthy happenings, there was a raid on the Posse Comitatus Life Science Church in Tigerton. Kelly Lecker of Cecil won the state spelling bee. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated for his second term as president.

Also in that year, a former carrier fell and broke her leg, opening a route for Steinke to take. Steinke was working as a dishwasher at the time and was persuaded to take the route by a Leader employee.

Since then, he was taken his bike up and down the streets of his Shawano newspaper routes with ferocious regularity. It took the polar vortex to slow him down, and even then, he would have rather delivered the papers than see his customers go without.

He endured two dog bites through the years, and in 2014, his primary mode of transportation, his bicycle, needed costly repairs.

At that time, Tim Conradt, owner of Mountain Bay Outfitters, presented him with a new bicycle. Steinke also received a fluorescent rain jacket, a personalized license plate and a special helmet light. More than $900, including $320 from Quality Auto Body and $280 from the Shawano Woman’s Club, was raised to get the new bike, accessories and parts, and repairs for Steinke’s old bicycle.

What kept Steinke on his bike, delivering the news for so many years?

He enjoyed the ride, he enjoyed the work. Most of all, he enjoyed taking care of his customers. Now, he said, he has reached a point where he doesn’t want to risk taking a spill and he knows it is time to retire.

Perhaps fittingly, though Friday was Steinke’s official retirement day, he also could be found on his route on Saturday. His replacement wasn’t ready to start yet, and his customers needed to get the news.