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Valentine’s wishes flood the town of Fidelity

About this time every year, Fidelity, Ill., postmaster Peggy Ruyle gets flooded with mailings from around the globe seeking a postmark in advance of Valentine's Day.
Postmaster Peggy Ruyle displays a handful of mailings sent her way from around the globe for postmarking in advance of Valentine's Day in Fidelity, Ill.
Postmaster Peggy Ruyle displays a handful of mailings sent her way from around the globe for postmarking in advance of Valentine's Day in Fidelity, Ill. Seth Perlman / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Among thousands of Valentine’s Day mailings that have gravitated to this place over the years for the postmark so fitting for the holiday, a widow’s loving plea instantly grabbed Peggy Ruyle’s heartstrings.

Tucked in with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to be given the Fidelity postmark, the old woman’s note lamented losing her husband a year ago, six days after his 85th birthday and just months before the two would have marked 64 years as husband and wife.

“Among the flowers I will put on his grave” this month, the widow wrote, “I want to include this envelope stamped ‘Fidelity.”’

Ruyle figures she’s read the widow’s note a dozen times, and it never gets easier.

“I choke up every time. I never got a letter this touching,” says Ruyle, 61, who’s been postmaster here for 13 years. “I can picture a little man and woman, sitting in a rocking chair or porch swing, just being happy. That’s a good picture to have.”

At this time of year, Ruyle absolutely loves her job and her small role in keeping romance alive, one postmark at a time.

Tiny town, big heart
Few ever see this Jersey County outpost, population 115. It is little more than a collection of weathered mobile homes 35 miles north of St. Louis, as the crow flies, and well off the beaten path.

But folks somehow have heard of Fidelity and its aluminum-sided, shack-like post office with white shutters, the only business in town.

Each year, Ruyle says, a couple hundred Valentine’s Day mailings come her way from around the globe, from as far away as Thailand. Fifty-three arrivals one recent morning included return addresses from Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Florida.

Many requests include notes simply asking Ruyle for the postmark. Some are collecting postmarks with a shared theme, including Loveland, Colo.; Valentine, Texas; Kissimmee, Fla.; Romeo, Mich.; and Juliet, Ga.

Others, like the mournful widow, give what Ruyle calls windows into the sender’s soul, “just a little piece of their life.”

‘Blessed with the name Fidelity’
One woman wanted the enclosed stamped, self-addressed card sent “to my wonderful boyfriend.”

“He is the love of my life and I couldn’t be happier with him,” the woman cooed. “It’s funny how you meet the ones you fall in love with. We met a year ago at my work. I was working and he was the cute volunteer.”

Connie Cooper recently drove 12 miles from the tiny town of Kane to get the Fidelity postmark on 10 “save the date” notices for her daughter’s nuptials in September. She expects to be back with some 300 wedding invitations.

“This is neat, unique. Not many people are blessed with the name Fidelity,” Cooper says.

By some accounts, folks here can thank a horse for that.

While researching the town’s origins, Audrey Bohannon — Fidelity’s historian, if you will — found that a Tennessee group passed through the area in 1829. When Joseph Russell’s horse turned lame and couldn’t get him back to Tennessee for business, Samuel Simmons volunteered one of his horses.

“That’s true fidelity,” Russell supposedly exclaimed to Simmons, who stayed behind and built a log cabin. In 1850, Russell and his brother settled the town and eventually got it named Fidelity. The post office came four years later.

Nothing lasts forever
The town has seen better times, by some accounts once boasting an Army barracks, grain elevator, several doctors and dentists, a blacksmith shop and grocery stores — all long gone.

“Unfortunately, it’s turning into a trailer town,” Bohannon says. “People die, people move away and things change.”

But not the post office or Ruyle. She puts her heart into obliging each request, delicately stamping each envelope by hand so the postmark won’t smudge, then setting it aside to dry before moving on to the next.

“That’s just a small thing, to make somebody happy for just a couple of minutes,” said Ruyle, her own marriage more than four decades strong. “It’s worth it.”