BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — He could have been relaxing on the couch, watching “Ancient Aliens” or “Finding Bigfoot.” Sci-fi shows are his favorites.
He could have been at the beach or just about anywhere else.
Like most everyone else, he could have been asleep.
But instead, at 3 a.m. on Aug. 11, John Obugene started his regular shift at the Beckley Post Office.
That’s when he knew something was up.
It’s not easy to surprise someone who has been at it as long as Obugene, but Beckley Postmaster Michele Foster had pulled it off.
Obugene’s 50th anniversary with the United States Postal Service was just a few days away on Aug. 14, but Foster wanted to arrange something before then.
So Obugene’s surprise party, attended by family, past and present co-workers and U.S. Postal Service regional officers, was set for that morning.
“I had no idea,” Obugene said. “When I got to work that night, I saw the tables set up and the balloons were there. Somebody told me they’d been planning it for 2 or 3 weeks.
“So there ya go,” he continued. “It was real nice.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Baby Boomer, which Obugene is, changed, or will change jobs, 12 or more times before retiring.
Had Obugene followed family advice and gone into the coal mines, he might have done some job-hopping as well.
“If you don’t enjoy your job a whole lot, if you’re not the right fit for the job or if it doesn’t fit you, you won’t stay in the job that long,” he said. “It’s that simple.
“You have to find something you don’t mind doing.”
In 1971, just after he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, 18-year-old Obugene knew the mines weren’t the right fit for him.
He needed a job though, and he heard the Beckley Post Office was hiring.
“So I went and talked to the postmaster and I got the job,” he said.
On Aug. 14, 1970, Obugene started as a part-time flexible employee, delivering mail and “whatever they wanted me to do.”
“I liked it,” he said. “I was out on the road, driving all over town. I’d come in the office, get the mail I had to pick up, take it out and try to get rid of it.”
He was a mail carrier for about 11 years, but eventually the snow, rain, heat and gloom of the four seasons prompted him to take an indoor opportunity, loading trucks and working on the docks.
In the 49 years since, Obugene has worked just about every position in the building.
“The register cage. I worked the window for three years,” he said. “Anything that’s needed.”
He said his job hasn’t changed much, but things have scaled down in the past 10 years since equipment — and people — moved from local branches to Charleston.
“We used to have all sorts of machinery that we used to sort the mail,” he said. “When they took that, they took all our employees.”
Obugene said that move knocked the office down from more than 100 clerks to about 13, as his former co-workers retired or moved to Charleston to take positions.
He could have walked away with full federal benefits 12 years ago, but he wasn’t ready.
“A lot of people ask me why I still work,” he said. “I’m still able to. My health is still good.”
He said he stays because he thinks his job keeps him healthy. He thinks he’d most likely start looking for another job if he retired now.
I talk to a lot of people who have retired and within three or four months they’re looking for another part-time job just for something to do,” he said. “ So, I thought to myself I’ll just stay where I’m at, working a job I know what I’m doing and getting paid pretty good.”
Michele Foster, who has served as postmaster at the main Beckley branch for two years, but has worked with Obugene since 1991, said she’s happy he’s staying put.
“He volunteers for the shifts nobody wants,” she said. “He’ll work holidays and will work any minute of overtime. He’s the constant staple we have and he’ll be missed when he’s gone.
“Beckley (Post Office) has been his home for 50 years,” she continued. “He’s never worked in another post office and that’s pretty outstanding.”
But Obugene, whose wife of 40 years Polly and their daughter Ashleigh (son Jonathan couldn’t make it), joined the celebration, said retirement — and binge watching “Ancient Aliens” or anything else — could wait a bit.
“I think about it,” he said, “but I’d probably run out of things to do in a month. So as long as my health holds up and I feel like getting up every morning and going to work, I probably will.”
He said that’s been the key all along.
“You have to have the willingness to go to work,” he said. “And if you go to work and enjoy your job, the years will fly by.
“It’s been a short 50 years.”