He’s affectionately known as “Mailman Mike,” a title he definitely relishes.
For more than three decades on his routes as a mail carrier, first on the north side and for the past 20 years in Riverwest, Mike Boothe has delivered smiles and loads of positive energy to residents, along with cards, bills and packages. He especially popular among children, to whom he imparts gentle words of wisdom.
Boothe, 55, is hanging up his mailbag this week and heading into retirement, leaving a void in the neighborhoods he has served.
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On Tuesday morning, Boothe received a proclamation from the city in the Common Council chambers at City Hall, where family and friends gathered in the gallery in support.
Alderman Jonathan Brostoff said Boothe has had a positive impact on residents and business operators throughout the Riverwest neighborhood he serves and noted that Boothe has worked out of the North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Post Office for his entire career.
“Mike has been an almost daily messenger of positivity, humor and kindness along his route,” Brostoff said. “Over the years, he’s made people’s days better just by being himself.”
Boothe, the youngest of 13 children, grew up in the Garden Homes neighborhood on the North Side. He attended Whitefish Bay High School before enlisting in the U.S. Army, where he was stationed in Germany for two years.
He spoke with Milwaukee Magazine at City Hall prior to the ceremony.
MilMag: What do you think of the recognition you’re getting from the city?
Mike Boothe: I think it’s a great honor, but I don’t know if they should be honoring a mailman. I’m just a guy walking around every day trying to have a good day. My smiles are contagious, maybe that’s why I’m here. But I think we all should be acting like that. Children are watching us, you know?
How long have you been on the job?
A little over 30 years, 20 on my current route.
Why did you decide to retire now?
I’m old enough. I’ll be 56 in a few months. I retire on Saturday and on Monday morning I’m heading to Italy. An opportunity arose and I thought, why not? I won’t have a job anymore. I’ve got free lodging and a free guide. I guess my kindness is paying off.
What are some of your most treasured memories on the job?
The children. They educate me every day. Teach me a lot. They are very honest. It’s probably why I act the way I do, because they think I’m cool, so they want to emulate me. I really have to watch the examples I put in front of them. If they think you are cool, they are going to do what they see you do. I’m also a sucker for the elderly. For them to give me respect is huge for me. I grew up in an era when we respected our elders.
What’s at the root of your desire to be kind and have an upbeat attitude?
It comes from Walter and Velma Boothe, my parents. They had 13 kids. I never saw my dad complain. He was always happy. I had a great mom and grandma, too. They put a lot of values in us. They came from nothing. My dad had maybe a third-grade education and my mom junior high. But they instilled education and respect. I’m just giving out common courtesy.
How do you put your career in perspective?
People are praising me but I’m just a guy at work, trying to have a good day. If you see me at work, you’ll think that he has the best job in the world. I think whatever I do in life is going to be fun. You have to enjoy the moment. I don’t know why I’m being praised for doing what every adult should be doing.
Have you always enjoyed the job?
I loved it from the beginning. I worked in probably the worst area of the city on my first route for the first 10 years, around 35th and Vliet. From 1993 to 2003, a lot of things were going on in that area, but I got the same love from the poor people and even the gang members. I’d say to them, ‘There’s nobody dumb enough to come over here but me, so I’m going to need a little cooperation.’ So, when I pulled up on a block, whatever they were doing, they’d stop. Everybody is somebody. That’s the approach I take every day. I respect all of them.
What are some of your most important messages?
I have young adults come up to me and say that they are having a terrible day, but they knew I’d be smiling. They are all our children. Let them know that they aren’t alone and that we’re all human. You’re not going to succeed in everything but get up and keep going. Also, my parents told me to be respectful and you’ll be respected, and I’ve seen it work. I’m grateful that I was able to follow their lead. All the kids see me, so they’re all my kids. I’m not their biological parent but I’m a figure in their lives who they think is cool, so maybe I have even more power than their parents sometimes. So, it’s very important that I behave. If a child saw me act up, that would hurt me a lot.
Will you miss the people on the job?
Oh, yes. I will miss my route, but I don’t know if I’ll miss working.
What are you going to do in retirement?
First, I’m going to Italy, then I’ll come back, and I’ve got some things to do in Arizona and Nevada, then to Puerto Rico and maybe the Carolinas for the spring and then probably back here. I have a couple of houses here that I’ll have to sell.
Do you plan on staying in Milwaukee?
No, I’m going to be a globetrotter. I’ll be here a couple weeks in the summer. I think it’s just time to get out of the public eye and just chill out.
Any final thoughts?
I think teachers, crossing guards and school bus drivers should be up here being honored. Not me. I’m just a guy with a crazy job who had a good time.