New GEHA partnership celebrates American postal pioneers

GEHA | December 9, 2020

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The permanent exhibit pays tribute to the Railway Mail Service and Railway Post Office.

Union Station and GEHA officials have cut the ribbon on a new exhibit and tribute to the American postal pioneers of the Railway Mail Service and Railway Post Office (RPO). (view ribbon cutting on Facebook)

This permanent exhibition, “Union Station Stories,” is presented by GEHA, which was founded in Kansas City in 1937 by a small group of local RPO employees. Today United States Postal Service employees continue to be an important part of GEHA’s membership base of 2 million federal employees, retirees and their families.

“At GEHA one of our core values is rooted in the notion of caring for one another, and that’s exactly what the early RPO workers inspired in how we serve our members,” said Darren Taylor, president and CEO of GEHA. “For more than 83 years we have been doing what we do best so that the federal workers of America can do what they do best – tackling the nation’s challenges on our behalf. Union Station’s RPO exhibit is a perfect way to honor and memorialize this special group of heroes in our country’s history.”

The Exhibit

The RPO exhibit – located on the main floor of Union Station in Kansas City, Mo., is immediately adjacent to the current USPS office.

“As we have for the past 106 years, Union Station is a place where not only do we live history, but we tell and celebrate the rich stories of Kansas City and its memorable past,” George Guastello, president and CEO Union Station Kansas City, said. “With the guidance of our board of directors and partnership of GEHA, we are excited to share another terrific and important story ... the one of our historic connection to the Railway Post Office. Honoring and recognizing the men and women who pioneered this essential part of connecting and uniting our vast country and populations is essential to preserving their proud and often times heroic service.”

The exhibit features the tools of the daily trade used by RPO workers, including an original electric cart (dating from 1918) used to transport mail to and from rail cars at Union Station. It also includes personal stories, vintage video of workers in action, a practice sorting case, uniform elements, route maps, examples of real mail from the era and fascinating aspects of life on the rail. As historian Fred J. Romanski notes, “The Railway Mail Service bound the nation together by rail and precipitated the growth of commerce through the speed and dependability of its service. Business and commercial activity were pushed along in an environment where fast service, reliability, and a can-do attitude prevailed.”

The Founding of GEHA

RPO: The Romance of Rail and Mail shows how the Railway Post Office delivered the mail across 19th and 20th century America with speed, dependability and efficiency unmatched anywhere in the world.

The Railway Mail Service’s success was built on the backs of the brave men and women of the RPO. These early mail handlers worked in high-risk conditions, where the slightest misstep could lead to serious injury. As a result, RPO workers would frequently contribute to one another’s care – often by passing a hat to help pay medical expenses and support families of injured workers. The need for a more comprehensive, organized benefit system led to the creation of the Railway Mail Hospital Association (RMHA) in 1937.

From its headquarters in Kansas City, the RMHA expanded across the United States as the rail system and postal service worked together to connect people and cities of the young nation. The Association played a crucial role in passing coverage for all federal employees and their families under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act of 1959. Although the RPO is no longer in operation, the organization it inspired to protect the health and welfare of its workers continues to thrive. Now known as Government Employees Health Association, GEHA is one of the largest health and dental benefits providers for federal employees, retired military and their families, serving more than 2 million members worldwide.