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Oakland Gdns. mailman delivers blow to crime, lessons in life

For the past 26 years, Ralph Vassallo has appeared daily on Oakland Gardens doorsteps to deliver mail, although his visits have occasionally involved saving lives and chasing off crooks.

Vassallo, 57, who grew up in Astoria and has lived in Queens Village for several decades, will retire July 2 after 38 years of delivering mail in the borough. He is the most senior letter carrier at the Oakland Gardens station, at 61-43 Springfield Blvd., where he has worked for 26 years.

Vassallo, who began delivering mail in Jackson Heights during the early 1970s, said he will miss the residents along his route, which includes Springfield Boulevard and 76th Avenue, when he leaves the position next month.

“I’ve seen children go to grammar school, high school and college, get married and then have children of their own,” he said. “Some of them make me feel like family. My wife and I would sometimes be invited to barbecues. A lot of people are upset that I’m retiring.”

Vassallo works five days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., of which five hours are spent on foot.

“It’s a very physical job,” he said. “For 38 years, I’ve walked through the rain, sleet, heat and snow,” he said.

Vassallo took a test to become a letter carrier shortly after graduating from high school. Prior to taking the job, he had worked part time at a post office in Astoria during the Christmas holiday.

But, on occasion, his job has entailed more than just delivering bills and letters. In the late 1990s, Vassallo arrived at the doorstep of an elderly woman who was choking. He called for an ambulance and, in the meantime, gave the woman the Heimlich maneuver.

“I had to be very gentle with her,” he said.

Around that same time, he prevented a thief from stealing a car along his route just before Christmas.

“I chased him away,” he said. “He was in the process of stealing the car and I confronted him. His accomplice was waiting, so he jumped in another car. The people were very appreciative.”

Not only will Vassallo miss his route and co-workers, but they said things will not be the same without having him around.

“He’s my No. 1 man,” said Tammy Walters, manager of the Oakland Gardens station. “He’s going to be missed. He is always very conscientious. He’s old school. They don’t make people like him anymore. If I’m having a problem with an employee, he’ll come to me to give me advice.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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