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Watch out, Provo, your post office is one

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Watch out, Provo, your post office is one of a dying breed.

With the closure last month of the tiny post office in Provo, Ky., U.S. Postal Service locations in towns called Provo are in short supply.Already post offices have disappeared from Provo, S.D., and Provo, Ark. Could one of the two post offices in Utah's second-largest city be next?

"No," says a Provo, Utah, postal employee. "In fact, we're trying to get a new station."

Provo has two postal stations, the principal one on 100 South near University Avenue and another in East Bay business park. A third might better serve the city's burgeoning population of more than 100,000, but three post offices here almost seems gaudy when other Provos have none.

"They pulled the lease out from under us," said Margaret Harlow, who was acting postmaster in Provo, Ky., until the office was closed down June 19.

The one-employee post office had occupied someone's garage for the past 35 years. Harlow was the only person who staffed the office, six days a week. Although Harlow had scarcely seven or eight customers per day, the closure of the office signals the decline of the farming community 35 miles north-west of Bowling Green.

Provo, Ky. - where most of the 100 or so residents are either retired or involved in farming in the bottoms near the Green River - once had several stores in addition to the post office. But now there's just a Baptist church, a community center where a potluck dinner is held once a month and a few homes stretched along the highway.

In Provo, S.D., things are much the same. Since even before the post office left in 1995, there was a trend of declining population and fewer jobs. But now there's no longer anyone behind a counter to sell stamps and shoot the breeze.

Lanoir Pederson, the former postmaster who worked at the Provo office for nearly 18 years, laments the demise of her hometown and the accompanying loss of the lone place in the world that could issue the postmark "Provo, S.D."

Provo is nestled at the southern tip of the Black Hills, and the population is "about 30 or 40," Pederson said. The town once had five bars and a cafe, but the only activity now is initiated by a few head of cattle or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is cleaning up a former toxic weapons site nearby.

"We were the only post office in the country to have the entire interior of our lobby papered with canceled stamps," said Pederson, who is 84 and has lived in Provo for 53 years.

Alas, the 15,000 stamps that once covered the walls of the 8-feet-by-10-feet lobby are now shown at a tourist attraction in Rapid City.

Meanwhile, Provo, Ark., hasn't had a post office for decades. The unincorporated area in the southwest corner of Arkansas is most well-known for supplying a few laborers to nearby logging operations and paper products manufacturing sites. But a drought and sagging paper sales have left both of the area's main industries reeling.

"I don't know why it's still on the map because there's only 100 people here," said Provo resident Millie Jackson.

Former postmasters Pederson and Harlow remember fondly the days when their offices mistakenly got mail intended for postal customers in Provo, Utah. But now, those days are gone.

Without their post offices, these tiny towns - which already struggle for an identity because they aren't incorporated - are thrust even further into the backwoods. In fact, the strong desire to keep their longtime places of residence from disappearing entirely has both Harlow and Pederson insisting that their post offices really aren't closed, just without a place to settle right now.