First Native American appointed postmaster is Diné
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
FARMINGTON, January 24, 2013
Last Friday, Begay was appointed Farmington's new postmaster, a Level 22 position with the U.S. Postal Service system.
It's a feat for Begay who is the youngest and first Native American to be the postmaster at the 134-year-old post office.
"I'm not the only one," Begay said about being the first Native American postmaster. "In Farmington alone, I am the first Native American and the youngest ever. Gallup and Window Rock have their own Navajo postmasters."
Though he welcomes the congratulatory remarks, the Shiprock, N.M. native says it requires responsibility. After all, he will oversee the function of the post office, which employees about 50 people and the delivery of about 18 million pieces of mail and 150,000 packages to 21,000 addresses in the area.
"Farmington alone generates $3 million," Begay said about his office's impact in the U.S.P.S and on the economy. "In the private sector, we would be a Fortune 500 company. It's a lot money but there's a lot of expenses."
Prior to becoming the postmaster in Farmington, Begay worked with the U.S. Postal Service as a city mail carrier in Tempe, Ariz., in 1999, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corp. from 1993 to 1997.
Between 1997 and 1999, Begay held various jobs and because of aspirations of being a firefighter or police officer, he applied to both jobs with the Tempe city government and, ironically, a third job with the local post office.
"They're the first one who came calling," Begay said about U.S.P.S. "That's how I started."
Since then, he worked at various post offices, primarily in the Phoenix area, as a city mail carrier for six years, before returning back to the Four Corners region in 2005.
From 2005 to 2008, Begay worked periodically as a city mail carrier and then later as an official supervisor.
"The more I worked and the more I saw the structure of the company, I realized the postmaster was the end goal," he said.
Begay had been acting as postmaster since February 2012 when former postmaster Billy Smith, who has since become the postmaster for Las Cruces, N.M., was helping with management at the Roswell, N.M. post office.
Begay was officially promoted to his current position on Dec. 29, 2012.
Smith said he "coached and mentored" Begay watching him balloon from a mail processor working odd hours to the new postmaster.
Smith was postmaster for three years from 2009 to 2012 before he gave the reigns to Begay.
"I thought we were underutilizing him and I force fed him different activities," Smith said, adding that that's when he realized Begay's potential and need for leadership roles.
Instead of seeing a dip in sales while he was away from his post, Smith said Begay improved those numbers with "hard work and enthusiasm."
"A level 22 job is a significant placement," Smith explained. "It's the very last stage of middle management. The next level is senior management. It's quite an achievement."
One employee excited to work under the tutelage of Begay is Ramona Clevenger, an acting supervisor at the post office. She admires how her new boss climbed the ladder from being a carrier, supervisor and now the postmaster of a Level 22 post office.
"He has mentored me in my position and I have learned a great deal from him," Clevenger said about Begay. "He's knowledgeable and more importantly Steve is the type of individual who shares his knowledge with others."
Clevenger said when she took the position of acting supervisor, Begay was handy and resourceful with her transition.
"When you become a supervisor, you feel a little overwhelmed with the job duties," she said. "Steve took time to not only show me the reports but explained the reports and why we run these reports and what it means to the company."
For all it's worth, all Begay is concerned with is maintaining the standards and providing a service to the 21,000 addressees in the Farmington area.
"The main thing is service," he said. "It's what we strive to provide. It's the main mission."
The Shiprock native is Deeshchii'nii (Start of the Red Streak People Clan), born for Hashk'aa hadzohi (Yucca Fruit-Strung-out-in-a-Line Clan).