Mail carrier Don Fix noticed something was amiss at the Nelsons’ home last fall.
“The mailbox was full,” said Fix, 51, of Belleville. “Sometimes, the Nelsons don’t get it for a day or two. But the guy from Meals on Wheels was there. I said, ‘Did you drop off a meal?’ He couldn’t get anyone to answer the door.
“When I pounded on the door, it sounded like someone was in the back part of house. I walked along the side of the house and beat on the wall near the bedroom. I couldn’t reach the window. Then, I could hear him very well. Mr. Nelson had one of those deep voices. He said he fell and couldn’t get up. He needed help. I walked back to the front door. It was locked. I could see a walker in the living room, but couldn’t see his wife.”
Fix contacted Swansea police.
“After I called them, I did the loop on the block (where they lived). By the time I got the seven houses done, the Swansea Police Department was here. They checked the doors also. They brought a ladder and leaned it up where I told them the bedroom was, then took the screen from the window. They came around and unlocked the door, called paramedics and an ambulance.”
Both David and Eva Nelson had fallen.
“She was trying to get off the couch and the walker got away from her,” Fix said.
The couple spent time in the hospital before moving into Lincoln nursing home in Belleville. David Nelson died on May 23.
Fix, a mail carrier for 20 years, received a letter of commendation for his efforts from Postmaster General Megan Brennan. She wouldn’t have heard about Fix’s actions if someone hadn’t mentioned it to Belleville Postmaster John Sertich.
“When I talked to Don, he still was low key,” Sertich said. “Just the fact that he paid attention, was concerned, knew what to do, stayed there, I thought that was special. When you’re in a profession where you do the same thing over and over, day after day, he took the time to say, ‘Hey, something ain’t right.’ It probably did save their lives.”
Mail carriers coming to the aid of patrons happens from time to time.
“It happens often enough throughout the region,” Sertich said. “You hear of somebody noticing something amiss. Many who have been on a route for quite a while get to know their patrons and their habits. We’re the only federal agency that more or less is a presence to every citizen in the United States six days a week. We get comments, especially from children of older patrons when they want (their parents’) mail held, we want the carrier to know what’s going on with mother and father.
“Don’s case is unusual. Neither one of the occupants were able to help themselves. Had he not taken action, there was a good chance for serious consequences.”
Son Eugene Nelson appreciates Fix’s efforts, too.
“It got them out of that house” at the time, said Eugene, 46, an assistant manager at Wendy’s. “They were getting to the age where they couldn’t take care of it.”
The Nelsons started out in Freeburg, moved to Belleville, then to Swansea. David Nelson, 84, was retired from a defense mapping agency in St. Louis. Eva, 82, was a homemaker.
Eugene, the Nelsons’ only child, knew his parents had fallen before, but also knew they wanted to stay in their home. He checked on them regularly.
“Both are diabetic,” he said. “Both of their medications were out of whack (after the fall).”
Fix often talked to David Nelson.
“He knew me. Everyday, I’d say, ‘How do you do, Mr. Nelson? Do you want the mail?’ Depending on where he was in the driveway, he’d take it or I’d put it in the mailbox,” Fix said. “Normally, the older people on the route you see all the time. If mail builds up, I knock on the door or ask neighbors, to kind of check on them.”
Fix, a slim guy, moves from yard to yard and up and down front steps at a pretty good clip. He carried an armload of mail and a sack with magazines and such Tuesday morning. He stopped to talk for a minute in front of a small frame house with planters out front in the 1500 block of Kinsella.
“I know most of the people on the route,” he said, glancing down the street. “There are quite a few people I went to school with. (He is a 1982 Belleville West graduate.) Bud here works for Swansea Village. Mr. Monken of Monken’s Electric sits out there and talks to me when I walk by.”
Born and raised in Belleville, Fix served in the U.S. Army, married, had a family and lived in Colorado until 2003 when he divorced and moved back to Belleville to be closer to his parents. He landed in the mail carrier job 20 years ago after recovering from a 25-foot fall while working as a framer in Colorado.
“I broke my elbow, shattered my wrists and broke my back,” he said.
Fix has worked his current route a little more than a year, but was on the route previously. He knows most folks and prides himself in looking out for them.
“The other day ... there was a guy taking pictures of George’s house,” he said, of a fellow on his route. “It looked strange. He said, ‘Oh, thanks for letting me know. I’m getting ready to refinance the house.’ He knew he was coming.
“Most of the time, it’s just little stuff. If we see it, we let people know. When people go on vacation, we kind of watch the house. If something looks out of place, I knock on the door.”
Like he did at the Nelsons’.
“Mr. Nelson always had his walker,” Fix said. “I’d see him picking up sticks out of the driveway. He was always trying to do something. Plant a little grass seed. Most of the time when I was delivering, he was outside. The only time I would see her is when she was going to the grocery store, or she would meet me at the door before I put the mail in the mailbox.
“I’m glad I acted that day. The following day was a holiday. I wouldn’t have been back for another two days.”
Contact Maureen Houston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2664.
About Don Fix:
Where he lives: Belleville’s Signal Hill neighborhood
Family: Divorced in 2003, has two sons and a daughter who live in Colorado, and another son, Chaz, in the U.S. Navy stationed in California.
Favorite weather for delivering mail: Sunny and in the 60- to 80-degree range
Most dreaded weather: “That year it was so hot when it was getting up to 100 degrees. I don’t mind the cold. I can dress for the cold.”
When he’s not delivering mail: “I like to go fishing. Right now, I fish for trout, catfish and crappie. I also spend a lot of time with my girlfriend.”