HUDSON — Deb Maher does not like the word “hero.” But the community hailed her as one after she noticed a man on her postal route had not collected his mail in a few days and called for a welfare check.
The man was identified by police as 79-year-old Paul Schuchman of Aitken Avenue. At about 2:47 p.m., Monday, Hudson police received a call from the U.S. Postal Service in Hudson. Postal officials told police that one of their carriers was concerned that a man on Aitken Avenue had not picked up his mail in more than three days.
She was worried about his safety and well-being, Hudson Police Chief L. Edward Moore said Wednesday.
Maher, who has been walking the route that covers Aitken Avenue for 18 years, said part of her work includes keeping an eye on the community.
“You definitely learn. The mail carrier knows a lot about people, for sure,” Maher said.
The U.S. Postal Service has been participating in the Carrier Alert Program for the past 39 years. When a mail carrier notices something unusual, such as accumulated mail, he or she reports it to a postal supervisor or other designated individual who in turn contacts local police or another local agency.
Delivering mail to the same residences day after day, letter carriers become familiar with customers’ habits and often notice changes in routine that mean a patron is in distress, the National Association of Letter Carriers said.
The program was established in 1982.
Maher said Schuchman has been on her route for a long time, but that he was a private man who received quite a bit of mail.
“Towards the later couple years he’d talk a little bit more, or at least meet out there and I’d say, you know, ‘Hi, Paul, or whatever.’ But that would be about it. Not too much more — like I said, extremely private. And it wasn’t until probably last week that he actually had a long conversation with me,” she said.
Over the years, Maher said she’d gotten to know Schuchman a bit more: after the letter carrier told him about her new fascination with painter Vincent Van Gogh, Schuchman got her a Van Gogh calendar for Christmas, Maher said.
She was familiar with his mail habits, too: She said she would bundle the large amount of mail he received, and if he didn’t meet her at the mailbox, it was always gone the next day.
Maher had a long conversation with Schuchman about his health in prior weeks, and she said she knew that he usually walked all over town to get where he needed to go. So when three days of mail piled up in the box, Maher knew something was off.
“I look over, I noticed that his mail is still there from Friday, from Saturday. Now it’s Monday. So I went around and did my route, knocked on his windows — banged on them — both windows, everything. You can’t look in because he has all the blinds pulled,” she said.
Neighbors had not seen Schuchman for a few days, either, and encouraged Maher to look around the house and knock on windows, she said. Finally, she decided to contact the post office, which in turn contacted the police department for a welfare check.
Officers entered the house through an open window and found Schuchman lying on the living room floor next to the front door. He was conscious but in need of immediate medical attention. The officers said it appeared the man had been lying on the floor for a long period of time before he was found, Moore said.
Schuchman was taken by Greenport Rescue Squad to Albany Medical Center for emergency treatment. He continues to be treated at the hospital, Moore said.
Police did not release details on what type of medical condition the man may have suffered. Maher said she has not been able to get an update on his condition.
Police — and Maher — are looking for family members.
“If anyone has any information regarding Mr. Schuchman’s next of kin, please call Hudson police at 518-828-3388,” Moore said.
This is not the first time Maher has tapped into her knowledge of the route, she said. Seven years ago, a customer on Fairview Avenue, who routinely went to Stewart’s for a pint of ice cream and a Diet Coke, had not left fresh footprints in the snow over the weekend. Maher reported the mail pile-up, and the man had passed away she said.
Maher said she has a special bond with her customers, and because of that, she has never taken an opportunity to move off her route.
“They’re all like part of my family. Basically, I think of it that way. I’ve been to funerals. There’s a couple older gentlemen that have lived on my route that their wives have passed away, and then they were left alone, and I had one gentleman that used to make me soup ... I went to his funeral. They definitely become your family,” Maher said.
She was especially moved by the community’s response; some customers immediately knew it was her that reported it, she said.
“I think this is very important that I was literally just one of the links in the chain,” Maher said. “I’m literally just the link because there are so many other hands involved. And, and I think God plays a part in it, he just put us all there at the right time. It all just kind of came together.”