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65 years later: Former Clarkdale postmaster Phil Hess receives high school diploma

Phil Hess, 83, received an honorary diploma on May 26 from Charles City High School. Photos courtesy James Grob, Charles City Press (Iowa)

Phil Hess, 83, received an honorary diploma on May 26 from Charles City High School. Photos courtesy James Grob, Charles City Press (Iowa)

CHARLES CITY, Iowa – Not too many people receive a standing ovation at their high school graduation ceremony.

But Phil Hess is not your ordinary high school graduate. In fact, he likely would have graduated high school in 1954, had life not gotten in the way.

On May 26, Hess walked with Charles City High School’s Class of 2019 – and received his diploma – at age 83.

Since he dropped out of high school in 1951, following his freshman year, Hess has received his Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s degree, served his country, worked as postmaster, built houses and repaired homes, and been exalted ruler of the Jerome Elks Lodge six years running.

But an unexpected meeting led to his former school district giving him an honorary high school diploma 65 years after he last sat in a high school classroom.

“This is their class. They need to stand out, not me,” Hess said May 26 when he thought he was getting more attention than the young men and women who comprised the Class of 2019.

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Phil Hess: “Education is the greatest thing any person could have. Each day, people should look for something new, and they should look on the bright side.”

‘Truly make him part’

Hess may not have received the honorary diploma had he not met Susan and Carl Jacob en route to his Arizona home from an annual Elks grand lodge convention in Reno.

“At the conventions, I’d always look up the people from Iowa,” Hess said. Heading through the California desert, this car with Iowa license plates pulled into Death Valley. I pulled out beside them and started talking with them.”

After Hess and his wife Samantha moved back to Charles City in 2006, the Jacobs “started working with the school board” to help Hess get his honorary degree.

Though Hess has attended various Class of 1954 reunions in Charles City, an honorary diploma “would truly make him part of the class at their 65th class reunion this fall,” Susan Jacob wrote in a letter to the Charles City School District on May 14.

An educated man

Hess admitted that he was bored with high school. So he dropped out – and went to work. Then he decided to serve his country.

While in the US Air Force, Hess earned his GED in May 1955. He earned his Associate’s degree from Eastern Arizona College in May 1972, then in May 1974 he earned his Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University.

“Growing up I remember dad driving to ASU after work to obtain his degree in order to better the family,” said his daughter. Audra Stadelman, a realtor at Coldwell Banker Mabery Real Estate. “His dedication and discipline to do that was something we kids all looked up to. He was the type of dad during our school days that made every band concert, ball game, Scouting event. We will always cherish those memories.”

Education, Hess said, “means the world to me.”

“Education is the greatest thing any person could have. Each day, people should look for something new, and they should look on the bright side.”

Clarkdale postmaster

From 1975 until 1992, Hess worked as postmaster at the Clarkdale Post Office on 9th Street. But his postal career started in August 1959 in Globe.

“Actually it was my first sergeant when I was in the reserves who recommended I take the exam,” Hess said. “He was postmaster.”

In Globe, Hess said he “did everything” at the post office. It was while at Globe when Hess was involved in the implementation of the first five-digit zip codes.

In 1990, he was named Postmaster of the Year by the National Association of Postmasters. Two years later – on Feb. 21, 1992 – Hess retired at age 56.

“I had just about went to the top with the post office,” he said.

Nowadays, Phil and Sam live half of the year in the Verde Valley, the other half in Charles City.

“We’re the typical snow birds,” Sam said. “When we’re in Arizona we’ve got years’ worth of friends, and we’re still active in the Elks Lodge.

Married in October 1990, Phil and Sam met at Jerome Elks Lodge #1361 in March that year. Phil was the exalted ruler, Sam the club manager.

“Each of us thought the other was married,” Sam said.

Pat, Phil’s first wife and the mother of his five daughters, passed away in 1986.

Stadelman, said it “was amazing” that the Charles City School District gave Hess the honorary diploma.

“I feel like it was a wonderful gesture on the part of Charles City,” Stadelman said.

In a black gown, black cap, and an orange and black tassel, Hess led Charles City High School’s Class of 2019.

“Most of the students I had never met,” Hess said. “They shook my hand. It was so great. They were such great people.”

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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