7:30 a.m.—As street lamps finish their midnight shift and flicker off one by one, the double front doors of the Pomeroy Post Office hold back the only visible light source on a sleepy 2nd Street.
For 31 years, Jim Pullins and Jan Davis have been the first people to wake up and greet Pomeroy. Some might say that the two know better than anyone how a misty dawn feels in Southeast Ohio—including if anything is amiss in the city they serve.
Destined To Deliver
The veteran postal service workers shuffle into their individual sorting stations as they begin putting their route’s packages, magazines, letters—although fewer than ever—catalogs and bills in order. Both move with a coolness and ease that only comes after perfecting this routine for more than three decades.
Davis, who is 61 years old, has been delivering mail to rural homes on the outskirts of Pomeroy ever since deciding her nursing assistant career wasn’t enough to pay the bills. Davis became the first female full-time rural carrier in Pomeroy at a time when men were the face of the U.S. Postal Service.
The granddaughter and daughter of seasoned mail carriers, Davis might have been destined to take a career with the U.S. Postal Service. Even as a little girl, she delivered mail from the passenger seat of her dad’s mail truck.
Pullins, now 72, traded his military uniform for the navy blue U.S. Postal Service uniform in 1969.
“We’re going out together, right, Jim?” Davis says over the noise, referring to their unknown retirement dates.
The mail-moving duo shoot the breeze and throw their humor and wit back and forth across the busy room as they have for so many years.
More Than Letters
“I’m in good health, thank God. I like to work. I like people,” Pullins says. “I like to help people. If I can help them, I’ll do it.”
Aside from being two of the most familiar faces around the community, that’s what Pullins and Davis do—help people.
“People talk to you. They’ll talk to you and share with you what’s going on in their life. I always check with people, ‘How you feeing? You know, what’s going on?’ And they’ll tell me,” Pullins says.
Carriers have been unsung neighborhood watchdogs for as long as the service has been around. They will check in on the elderly and those living alone if mail ever begins to pile up.
As for actual dogs, the long-sworn enemy of mail carriers, Pullins and Davis have dealt with their share. But no number of angry canines, slippery ice patches or heavy packages could stop the two from completing their routes.
“I like the fact that you would come in here, get your work done, then you go out and no one is breathing down your neck,” Davis says. “You’re on your own. You’re out in the country. You get to see nature.”
Smitten With Hand-Written
The role of the postal service worker is important in neighborhoods around the world. However, America has created a special place in its heart for the timeless, romanticized image of a smiling mail carrier pushing through a foot of snow to bring letters from loved ones right to the front door. It is a cherished human interaction in a booming digital age.
“We used to feel important. We had so much First Class Mail. Now so much is sent through email,” Davis says.
So while delivering the growing number of large Amazon and eBay packages keep the two in better shape than most 40-year-olds, Pullins and Davis say customers are missing intimate hand-written letters more than ever.
“Letter mail, you can sit down and put down your deepest thoughts on paper and communicate them with someone else through the mail,” Pullins says.
4 p.m.—Pullins’ route is complete and he has logged another seven or eight miles of walking. He turns in his keys and heads home to his wife of near 50 years. He will see Davis in the morning, and they will head out onto Pomeroy’s streets once again with the same toughness and enthusiasm they have kept all these years.
The first horse Rachel Bendler rescued on her own from a slaughter-sale was Red. In 2007, Red was penned up at a horse auction waiting to be sold. Instead of meeting his demise over the border in Canada where horse slaughter is legal, Red met Rachel who bought him for $10 that day.
It was the beginning of what is now Bella Run Equine, a nonprofit organization in Athens County dedicated to “responsibly rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming slaughter-bound horses.”
Husband and wife, Zack and Rachel Bendler co-own the nonprofit. In addition to rescuing and rehoming horses, their farm serves as a halfway home for other abandoned pets as well.
Rachel & Zack
Having spent her childhood riding horses and then her time after school as a barn manager, Rachel is without a doubt a horse person. Zack gushes just talking about her.
“How Rachel is able to break through to animals that have been done wrong by humans, cover up bad memories with positivity — it’s a gift,” he says.
A true Western man, Zack wears his cowboy hat and country button-up like he never left his native Oklahoma. Experienced in traditional ways of breaking horses, Zack came to Ohio looking for a less harsh alternative.
Like the horses she so loves, Rachel saw a kindred spirit looking for a home when she met Zack at a horse barn in Athens. After Rachel won over Zack’s support for rescuing horses, Rachel and Zack were on their way to falling in love, getting married and starting Bella Run Equine.
In 2014 Zack bought the land he was leasing. And what started with Red, grew into what is now around 30 horses.
Horses, Dogs, and Ducks
The Bendlers have a network of friends who help out at Bella Run. Both Zack’s brother Ethan Bendler and Rachel’s best friend Trisken Emmert both volunteer. Emmert, a live wire, and local school teacher feels at home when she is giving a voice to the voiceless.
“There’s a lid for every pot — I hope somebody told ya that — we say that all the time,” Emmert says. At Bella Run, they use the saying to describe the notion that every animal has a good owner out there, but the key is finding a quality fit for both.
Emmert is passionate about the horses. She describes Monarch, a beautiful 14-year-old bay thoroughbred, and Enzo a Palomino pony, and the Seven Sisters, and on and on without even taking a breath.
The zeal for rehoming animals does not stop with the horses. Bella Run also works to rehome dogs with their Farm Dog Program. They rescue dogs that are either abandoned by owners or at the end of their time in kill pounds.
Tanky Tank, who was once a troubled mutt at Bella Run, is Emmert’s favorite puppy success story. With tireless training, Tank became an adopted certified rescue dog.
In addition to horses and dogs, Bella Run has a few other lost creatures finding refuge on the farm. Kevin and Patrick, the rescued ducks, call Bella Run home as do a few goats and sheep.
Rachel and Zack use realistic decision making, sound budgeting, a great support system and untiring effort to keep the farm on track. They emphasize rescuing horses with high adoptability potential so that future adoption sales can help fund the purchase of the next rescue.
For these animals to have a home is paramount to Zack and Rachel.
“The world needs your attention and they need it right now. Let’s making caring cool again,” Zack says.
And with their nonprofit Bella Run Equine, the Bendlers are doing just that.
Like its famous pies, Millie’s Restaurant was built from scratch. Nearly 30 years ago, Millie Duncan’s husband got tired of people coming into their house for Millie’s food, so he built her a restaurant next door. What started in the home is now a full-time restaurant, bakery and catering provider.
Located in Middleport on the southern edge of Meigs County, Millie’s Restaurant is the definition of homegrown. Duncan says she started baking to use eggs from the chickens in her barn. She then began selling food from home because her kids and their friends loved her food and flocked to her house for lunch. As the business grew in popularity, the building was added to.
Millie’s Restaurant attracts nearby neighbors and far-off travelers. Kelly Barnett, a waitress at Millie’s, says, “I had [customers] from Little Hocking and they had relatives that were from Arizona and Nebraska.” Bob Evans and his wife, Jewell, Southeast Ohio natives, once ate at Millie’s. Duncan’s popular pies are sent all over the country by request.
Barnett says that over half of the customers are regulars, and because of that, Duncan knows her customers. Local customers Kathy and Wayne Thomas who live across the street from the restaurant, eat there several times a week. Wayne says they live “too close.” Kathy adds, “I’ve been here longer than it’s been here.”
“I figured Kathy would know anything about this restaurant. She’s been looking at it for 29 years,” Duncan adds.
The inside of the restaurant looks like a home kitchen. Mark Hudson, a Millie’s regular, says he likes “the home feel and the home cooking” of the restaurant. Like many kitchens, the restaurant is a place to collect family knickknacks. “People see that I collect certain things and they bring me stuff,” Duncan says. The family pictures on the walls are of her parents and her husband’s great grandparents.
Outside, the restaurant looks welcoming. It sits next to a big red barn and Duncan’s house. There is a front porch with main doors, a side door with a “Millie’s” sign over it and a back porch that is home to Sadie the friendly rat terrier who is a bit deaf. Like the items inside, Sadie was once dropped off. Seven years later, she is a beloved part of the Duncan family and restaurant.
The food is authentic. Duncan locally sources as much food as possible, picking the green peppers from her own garden. The coconut cream pie, the most popular pie on the menu, is a recipe from Duncan’s husband’s aunt Winnie. Duncan and another baker, Tracy Moon, make every part of the pies, including the crusts and meringue. Mashed potatoes, ribs, baked goods and garden salad are all created from scratch. The most popular meals are the baked steak, pork chops, and chicken and noodles, all homemade as well.
Millie’s Restaurant caters events. “The catering is a big part of it and I do as much as I can,” Duncan says. Every week, Millie’s takes its homemade meals to the Gavin Plant in Cheshire.
Millie’s Restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary on March 17. Surely there will be enough pie for everyone.