Most everyone in town knows Kelly Johnson on sight.
She’s a youthful 50-something. Tall, outdoorsy, usually wearing shorts (rain or shine). Huge smile. Loves to talk. Couple of dogs by her side — now, that’s the big giveaway. Her dogs, Jack and Millie. And the paradox. Kelly is a mail carrier who is actually crazy about dogs.
Born and raised in Laguna Beach, Kelly is the youngest of three daughters. She says delivering the mail is in her blood. An uncle was a mail carrier in Laguna Beach for 42 years, and Kelly’s sister followed in his footsteps in their SoCal hometown. An aunt does the same job in Atascadero. Even Kelly’s mom took the required postal exam with Kelly, but chose another career.
“I love my job,” Kelly says. “I love working outside.” But mostly, she loves the folks who live along her mail route on west Lodge Hill — all 720 addresses. Say a name, and their address automatically pops into her head.
“I get attached to my people. I know their dogs,” Kelly says. “I honestly look forward to coming to work every day.”
And her “people” love her. One man calls her “cupcake” and gives her chocolate bars. Others wait for her at the mailbox. She watches out for them. She knows who might need help if they aren’t waiting for her or mail is left in the mailbox for a couple of days. She’ll go to the door to see if they are all right.
“I don’t know how many have called out, ‘I’m in here. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,’” Kelly says. “I call 911.”
Often, someone asks her to come in and visit, to change light bulbs, move a chair or help figure out why the vacuum doesn’t work. “I tell them I’ll be back after work.” And, of course, she always comes back.
“When they go to a nursing home, when they move to San Luis Obispo, I go to see them,” she says. “I always take rocky road ice cream to one man. It makes his day.”
And, it’s especially hard when someone dies. “I’ve lost a lot of people in 18 years. I really miss them.”
Away from work, Kelly is an active community volunteer. Cambria Historical Society, Native Daughters of the Golden West, Cambria 4-H all reap the benefits of her energy and good humor. Recently she joined the Cambria’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Kelly is married to local building contractor Mark Johnson. They have two grown children, son Kaj and daughter Eva, who attended Cambria schools. The kids got her involved with 4-H, and she’s been a leader with the group for 21 years, including 15 summers showing animals in 100-degree-plus weather at the Mid-State Fair. She specializes in dog obedience training.
Both kids graduated from college, an accomplishment that makes their mom proud, but one that she never pursued for herself. “My sister used to tell me I wasn’t college material, so I better find something to do. I never liked school, but I never let my kids know that.”
Instead, she taught swimming lessons after she graduated from high school. “Since I was 11, swimming was my whole life,” she says. And she rode horses. On weekends these days, she’s often at Jon and Lindy Pedotti’s ranch, on horseback, helping with the cattle. “They brought me into the ranch life and I love it.”
It’s obvious Kelly Johnson is content living in this small town. “I like the slowness, the open space, the kind people.” And, she says, she will continue delivering the mail here for a long time. Despite the dire predictions of the demise of the U.S. Postal Service.
“I believe it will always be here. Who else delivers to the door? For me, it’s more personal than a job.”
And she has the chocolate candy bars to prove it.