'A hometown kind of guy'

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Hayes retires as Gravel Switch postmaster

By Stephen Lega

After working next to Clellen Hayes for three and a half years, Gina Kirkland said he is different than any other ministers she's ever met.

"I never knew a preacher could be so much fun," Kirkland said. "He was always ready for a laugh."

Hayes is continuing his work as the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Lebanon, but he retired as the Gravel Switch postmaster March 31. 

Kirkland worked next to Hayes when she was an employee at the now-closed Gravel Switch branch of People's Bank. The bank shared a building with the post office.

"He's just a good guy, and he deserved to be honored," Kirkland said.

She was just one of the people who wanted to give him a send-off to remember.

Like Kirkland, Harry Van Why met Hayes at the post office, where Van Why has had a P.O. box for years.

"My first impression of him was he is just a real nice guy, a hometown kind of guy," Van Why said.

Working together with Hayes' family and friends, they planned a "celebrity roast" of Hayes at the Gravel Switch Community Center April 4.

Hayes was told he was invited to a surprise birthday party for someone he knew, although he said he started to become a bit suspicious the afternoon of the celebration.

Shortly after he and his wife arrived, Hayes was given the seat of honor and made to wear a court jester-style hat. His roasters shared a series of anecdotes.

"It was kind of embarrassing," Hayes said, "but it's supposed to be embarrassing, isn't it?"

Meanwhile, Hayes was told to remain silent. When he attempted to "correct" his roasters, he was silenced with a spray of silly string. Hayes admitted that was tough for him.

"I do like to talk," he said.

But the stories told about Hayes were all shared to show the community's appreciation for the work he has done since he was named the Gravel Switch postmaster in January of 1993.

His career with the post office, however, lasted more than 30 years. He previously worked in Louisville, St. Mary and Bradfordsville before he settled in Gravel Switch 16 years ago.

Hayes is a Marion County native, a 1968 graduate of Lebanon High School and a 1972 graduate of Campbellsville College (now Campbellsville University). He first went to work at the post office after serving in the Army.

Hayes became the pastor of Grace Baptist in 1984, and working at the post office was an aid to his ministerial duties.

"It's a bivocational job at the church," he said. "I needed another job to help pay the bills."

Hayes admitted that there were things about working in the post office he didn't like (such as the paperwork).

Over the years, Hayes has experienced the chaos of Christmas and been asked more than once, "Where's my check?" by his postal customers. And he's had a few odd experiences as well.

"At one time, we were shipping rocks about every other day," he said, "60 to 80 pounds per day."

His favorite part of the job reflected his pastoral spirit, however.

"Serving the people," Hayes said. "Serving the customers, and talking to the customers."

That also fits with Van Why's impression of Hayes. According to Van Why, Hayes treated his job at the post office as more than just a job.

"He's a very sincere person," Van Why said. "He cares a great deal about his faith, and he's ever-mindful of his community."

While Hayes was forced to remain silent as he was being roasted, he did get his opportunity to set the record straight at the end of the event. He expressed his appreciation for the event and for the community he served for 16 years.

"It's been a good time," Hayes said.