“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

That, of course, is slogan of the postal carrier.

Sadly – and wrongly – it appears that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and Congress will accomplish what snow, rain and gloom of night were unable to do: stop the mail.

Donahoe announced this week that Saturday delivery of letters would be eliminated by August 2013. He made the decision, he said, to save roughly $2 billion a year. For a quasi-governmental operation that lost $15.9 billion last year, it had all the appearances of a sound financial decision.

It’s not. It’s part of Donahoe’s desperate move that fits nicely with his overall plan to shrink the U.S. Postal Service, which has lost money since 2006 (more on that later).

While the nation as a whole will suffer from this piecemeal approach, rural areas are especially hurt.

No big deal? It is if you’re a widow and depend on the postal carrier to deliver your prescriptions and Saturday newspaper with those grocery coupons (and pick up a birthday card to deliver to your grandson in Los Angeles), all from your mailbox by the side of the road.

Without a doubt, personal contact – the crucial element of customer service – will be reduced nationwide if Donahoe’s proposal is implemented.

Some of the most eloquent writing on this appeared recently in the magazine, Esquire. It reveals the personal side of the postal service in describing Carrie Grabenhorst, a rural carrier in Gold Hill, Oregon:

“Often Grabenhorst’s elderly customers are waiting at the door, or even by the mailbox, for her right-hand Jeep to edge onto the shoulder. Many of them are alone all day. Their postal carrier is that one reliable human contact, six days a week. Some are older veterans. Quite a few have limited mobility, and it isn’t uncommon for her to lend a hand with an errand; she’s been known to pick up milk in town and bring it along with the mail. Grabenhorst drives 70 miles a day and makes 660 deliveries. On a typical day, that might include 50 packages of medicine. Her route is one of 227,000 throughout America.”

Of course, Donahoe is only the messenger. The real villain in this scenario was the 2006 Congress, which required the postal service to fund health benefits for future retirees for the next 75 years. And, they had to do it within 10 years.

No private business could afford to do that and neither could the postal service. The result? The postal service started operating in the red. All because of a legislative overreach designed to put it into private hands.

If today’s Congress could momentarily bestir itself to rational and constructive action – seemingly a tall order in itself nowadays for our nation’s lawmakers – it should concede that the 2006 group was unreasonable in its demands and start working to repair the damage.

Also, Postmaster Donahoe needs to reveal to USPS customers – us – all aspects of a short- and long-term plan. That’s the only way he will succeed in returning the postal service to profitability without a loss of service to the nation.

In Eastern Oregon and other vast stretches of the largely rural West, we aren’t prepared to sacrifice USPS Saturday operations.

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