For close to 35 years, through rain, snow, sleet or shine, five days a week and throughout the pandemic, Cherry Hill resident John Gragilla delivered mail to residents in Voorhees.
He began his days at 8 a.m., delivering mail on foot to businesses, and would end them around 4 p.m. in the Acorn Hill and Lost Tree developments in Voorhees.
Gragilla headed to Fir Lane in Acorn Hill for the last time on July 29 and found about 40 neighbors waiting to surprise him with gifts and food to celebrate his retirement and thank him for being their mailman. Even a light drizzle didn’t put a damper on the festivities.
Michelle Cohen, a Voorhees resident and a reading specialist at Triton High School, started planning the surprise party a few days before. She reached out to her neighbors on social media and invited Gragilla’s wife Shirley and son John III.
Cohen set up a tent near the front of her house, and her decorations included streamers and a sign that read, “Rain, Snow, Sleet or Shine, You’re Staying Home.” Beneath it was a tall pile of packages and envelopes addressed to the postman, cookies and a bucket full of bottled waters.
Cohen and some of her neighbors decided on a group present of gift cards to local restaurants. Others decorated their mailboxes with streamers and balloons and left gifts for Gragilla along his postal route.
Cohen has lived in Voorhees for 17 years, and as a teacher, she would see Gragilla a lot during the summer. She reflected on how she bonded with him over their love of cruises and dogs, and how he would sometimes bring treats for Cohen’s dogs.
“The dogs love him,” she said. “Even though people think dogs hate mailmen, he’s like, ‘Let me give them treats instead.’”
Another neighbor, Dave Pai, described Gragilla as being very friendly and “someone you could talk to.” For some people isolated during the pandemic, Gragilla may have been the only person they saw.
When he finally pulled up to Cohen’s house a little after 4, people clapped and cheered.
“I’m overwhelmed. You’re like family to me,” Gragilla said after he got out of his truck. “I love you all, and I’m going to miss you. I wish you were a little more nasty to make this easier.
“Thank you for 20 years,” the postman added. “I couldn’t ask for better people to have known. It’s been my pleasure, really.”
According to his wife, Gragilla thought about retirement for a while. And while the party was put together in a short amount of time, she wasn’t surprised by the gesture.
“These people are just the nicest, nicest, people, honestly,” Shirley Gragilla said.
When he retires, Gragilla looks forward to spending time with his wife, golfing, and taking walks with others.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he reflected. “I have great people that I work with: bosses, co-workers. It’s something I look forward to every day, it truly is.”