Almost everyone who lives in Northern Colorado has probably heard of Loveland's Valentine remailing program. The U.S. Postal Service says the program, which turns 70 in 2016, is the largest of its kind in the country, handling between 150,000 and 200,000 pieces of mail each year.
Beginning as early as December, cards and letters start pouring in from all over the world. For about two weeks before Valentine’s Day, the sound of stamping fills the Loveland Chamber of Commerce.
Who are the folks who make all this possible? We thought it would be fun to meet some of the dozens of volunteers who gather to painstakingly hand-stamp each of those missives with the special postmark from "Valentine Station."
The women known as the "Three Musketeers" all specialize in stamping bulky or odd-shaped packages. On this particular day, Janice Gibb and Delaine Phillips are adding the Loveland touch to a batch of wedding invitations. Along with third Musketeer, Joanne Williams, the ladies have 75 collective years of volunteering.
That’s 75 years of opening outer envelopes, making sure the Valentines are addressed properly and with the correct postage, and stamping them – all by hand – with Loveland’s special postmark. They do it for six hours a day for two weeks, often going home with little paper cuts and sore wrists.
So what keeps them coming back?
"Part of it is we’re giving something back to the community, and it’s really wonderful," said Janice. "And how would I ever know these people [Delaine and Joanne] if I hadn't started?"
It’s clear that they, and many of the other volunteers in the room, have become close friends through the annual stamping. There's even a long waiting list to become a volunteer, because once people start, they don’t want to leave.
Wilma Davis waited 12 years to get the call. She loves everything about doing this, especially seeing mail coming from all over the world.
"I just stamped one that was going to Norway. And on Monday I stamped one going to Singapore. I mean, I think it would be wonderful to get [a Valentine] from Loveland, Colorado," she said.
The program began on a small scale in 1946. The city's postmaster thought people around the country might enjoy having their Valentine postmarked in Loveland.
It was an instant hit. The following year, Loveland Chamber president Ted Thompson and his wife Mabel took the remailing program to the next level, adding a unique stamp to the envelope – called a cachet – in addition to the postmark.
A local artist or poet creates a new cachet every year. The Loveland Visitor Center has a collection of all the past cachets, some of which are a little odd when read today - like the one from 1957.
"I think that’s one of the most special things about this program, when you look back at some of the cachets - it takes you back to what was on people’s minds at the time," said Nicole Yost, communication specialist with the Loveland Chamber.
"The world - they were dealing with war and other issues. And we could bring them love; we could send positive messages through Loveland."