Farmington — It has been a year of learning and dedication for the Farmington Post Office's youngest and first Native American postmaster.

Last January, Steve Begay was sworn in as postmaster for the Farmington Post Office where he had been working since 2005 after relocating with his family from Tempe, Ariz.

"You don't look into a year saying this is what I want and this is how I want it," he said. "Like any other organization you have goals set for you and you do your best to achieve those goals."

Although the overall postal service has been downsizing in recent years and now matches work hours with workloads, the Farmington Post Office continues to grow.

When Begay started, he said he wanted to continue the success the post office has experienced in recent years and so far he says he and his staff have maintained that status.

As of last week, the post office's processing center -- it divides packages and mail for zip codes starting with 874, which includes Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington, Kirtland and Shiprock -- has processed more than 250,000 packages. Letters and other flat packaging continue to decrease.

"We're still doing good," he said.

When reflecting on the year, Begay mentioned that he was postmaster for less than 6 months when he was selected to attend the postal service training program called "Lean Six Sigma," which is a method used by large organizations to look for improvements in business efficiency and effectiveness.

"They normally give that to people that's probably been in 5 to 10 years as a postmaster," Begay said, adding that he worked side by side with postmasters from Denver, Phoenix and other western agencies.

The training focused on ways to make the postal service more efficient in sorting mail and packages by thinking about the layout of the work area while maintaining the postal service's goal of achieving this with limited employees and equipment.

He was also sent to Santa Fe to oversee their post office operations from August to mid-November.

He never dreamed of a career in the postal service but it was one of three jobs he applied for after being discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps.

Begay, who went to school in Shiprock and spent weekends and summers at his maternal grandparents' home in Cove, Ariz., started working for the postal service in January 1999 in Tempe, where he spent 6 years as a city letter carrier.

When asked what he remembers from his days as a letter carrier, he said delivering different types of knives to a Tempe resident who sharpened knives for a living.

The man would open the deliveries to show Begay the contents, which ranged from ninja swords to professional cutting knives from famous chefs like Wolfgang Puck.

"I got to know the customers on a first name bases," Begay said. "In a way you kind of keep an eye on things in the neighborhood."

He and his wife decided to return to the Four Corners so their children could learn about the Navajo culture.

After returning in fall 2005, Begay worked as a city letter carrier for about three years, then as supervisor in 2008 before overseeing the post office for most of 2012 while former Farmington Post Office Postmaster Billy Smith managed other post offices in New Mexico.

"It's been good to my family," he said about his career.

Begay is Deeshchii'nii (Start-of-the-Red-Streaked People) and born for Hashk'aan hadzohí (Yucca Fruit-Strung-Out-In-A-Line).

When The Daily Times arrived at the post office last week, Begay was collecting package pick up slips at one of the customer service stations.

"I try to get out there as much as I can," he said.

Editor's note: The Daily Times' Rewind series revisits stories we have reported on over the past year.  For yesterday's story, click here.


Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.