June 07, 1999 12:00 PM

For the past 15 years, Dee Martin has been a beacon through the rain, sleet and snow that sometimes besets the post office in rural Starrucca, Pa., a tiny hamlet of some 200 residents in the northeast corner of the state. Unfailingly helpful and reliable, Martin was honored by the U.S. Postal Service last July for never having taken a sick day in her career. Though technically a part-time employee, she has spent the past six years working 40-hour weeks doing the postmaster’s job in Starrucca on a fill-in basis, hoping that someday she could get the job permanently, as well as the benefits and pension that go along with it.

Wrong! When the position did become open last fall, Martin believes she was passed over because the other candidate had a college degree and she did not. “All these years I was told I was doing a pretty good job,” says Martin, 45, who admits being crushed by the decision, “and I have this theory that if you do a good job, you get what you should.”

Outraged local residents agreed and, as the contemporary phrase goes, went postal. Within a week nearly every adult in Starrucca—154 in all—had signed a petition asking that the job be given to Martin, who was born and raised in the town and is married with two children. One signer, cookbook author Susan Wyler, recalls when Martin drove 40 miles to Scranton, on her own time, to retrieve a lost package that Wyler urgently needed. When Martin’s congressman, Don Sherwood, learned of the flap, he demanded an explanation from the Postal Service, which has said only that the other candidate was more qualified. Whether or not the decision can be reversed, Martin, touched by the outpouring of support, is determined to see a bright side to her predicament. Says she: “I didn’t realize so many people liked me.”

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