Historic mailboxes find new use

The Union renovation left hundreds of mailboxes without a purpose. Once the hub of social activity, the mailboxes are finding new life in creative hands.

David Miller, retired biology professor and former Merry Lea program director, offered his woodworking skills to build savings banks using the mailbox doors. Miller has over 300 doors to work with.

The doors are the most memorable part of the mailboxes. The oldest ones are made of brass, Miller said. A pattern of ornate lines forms a border around the edges, and a twelve-pointed star decorates the keyhole. 

“I know that the doors of old mailboxes of this type have some value,” Miller said. “Since I am a woodworker, I knew I could use them in combination with wood to create items of interest.” He wants to market the banks to GC alumni and direct the proceeds to the college, he said. 

Each door has a number. Helene Hoover, class of ’96, still remembers hers: 311. Hoover is one of a handful of alumni who has expressed interest in buying the boxes that Miller is making. 

Miller approached Goshen College with his idea weeks ago. He tried out three different designs for the boxes. One is shaped like a birdhouse, another like a small mailbox, and the third is a simpler, more traditional box. 

Todd Yoder, vice president for institutional advancement, said the project is still in its ideation stage. “We’re still deciding if people want them,” he said. 

A few alumni, like Hoover, have expressed interest. Marie Harnish, learned of the savings banks from Miller when he was repairing a bunk bed that he had made for her son. 

When she saw one of Miller’s prototypes, she thought of her children, all three of whom are Goshen students, Harnish said. “I thought it’d be neat to get them each a mailbox,” she said. “I thought maybe I could have them start saving for the next generation to go to Goshen College.”

LaJane Yoder, class of ‘60, learned about the savings banks at church. “Dave Miller and I are in the same congregation, so I heard rather soon after he got the boxes about the project,” she said. 

LaJane Yoder plans to use her box to collect change for Mennonite Central Committee’s “My Coins Count” fundraiser, or as a place to store foreign currency from her travels, she said. 

Todd Yoder appreciates the appeal of the mailbox doors. The mailboxes were “the crossroads of campus,” he said. After chapel, students would head to the mailboxes to check their mail and socialize, he said. 

“The mailboxes were part of our regular morning routine,” said Kathleen Yoder, executive assistant to the president.It was a thrill to look in that little window of your mailbox and see something there,” she said. 

Still, Todd Yoder wonders if he can find a home for 300 boxes. He plans to share Miller’s prototypes with alumni this weekend to gauge interest. “Dave (Miller) has his heart in the right place,” he said. “I want to harness that energy.”

“I’m glad that he offered to do this,” said Glenn Gilbert, director of facilities, of Miller’s  initiative. “No one at the college had any suggestions for what to do with them and I was determined not to store them.”

If you want to request a savings box of your own, or want to learn more, contact alumni@goshen.edu.

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Written by Kristin Jantzen, Staff Writer

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