RICEVILLE | No one will ever know for certain, but if one were to calculate the averages, over the years, it appears Raymond and Esther Asfahl and family, of Riceville, have delivered nearly 1 million papers of daily and Sunday editions, to their customers in Riceville. The many delivery miles ended on Monday, Nov. 6, when the couple delivered their last Sunday papers, and now have set out on the full retirement phase of their lives.
For two years, the Asfahls also delivered the Waterloo Courier’s Sunday edition and once did the Courier’s daily route for a three-month span.
“It all started when I began walking at four in the morning with some of my teacher friends in 1985,” Esther said. “My husband said, ‘All you are doing is wearing out the leather on your shoes.’ Then in November of ‘85, a paper route for the Des Moines Register became available, and I and my daughter, who was in the eighth grade, took on the route of between 60 and 70 customers.
“She did half the route, and I did the other half. She only did it for about a year, and then our older son, who was then a junior in high school, took over for her,” she said. “Every one of our kids got to do the route at one time or another. Our oldest daughter even filled in some during the summer months, while she was in college. It was a good business experience for our kids, who started helping because they needed some income.”
While Esther kept tabs on the paper route, Raymond farmed. “Raymond has always farmed, and in March of 1995, he had a brain aneurysm and spent 10 weeks in Rochester and had several surgeries.”
During Raymond’s long recovery, “Our wonderful son, Milton, helped me with our farm, and we worked together and shared labor."
Despite the illness, the Asfahls continued delivering papers to their customers each day, rising at 5 a.m. each morning during the weekdays and at 4 a.m. to deliver the Sunday papers.
In 1996, “Raymond said he thought he could walk about a mile, so he began delivering about 20 papers, as he recovered,” Esther said.
Esther, who is the daughter of a Wesleyan Methodist Pastor, said, “God is good. If it wasn’t for our faith, when Raymond was ill, there was no way we could have made it through. He went through five surgeries with the bleeding in the brain, and he spent 37 days in intensive care, and there were complications and later therapy. When I saw others, in the brain trauma unit, who had no faith, I don’t know how they did it. I am no better than anyone else, I just have been blessed with a strong faith.”
“In March of 1998, the Globe Gazette route came open, and at that time the Globe had 90 customers and the other paper, 60 papers,” Esther said.
“The Sunday paper was always a family project. The first Sunday I delivered, there was 8 inches of new snow on the ground, so I used a sled for a portion of the route. When I returned home I was exhausted, so Raymond said he would drive me. So from that day on Raymond would drive, and I would sit in the back of the van and put the sections of the paper together, and one or more of the kids would deliver the papers to the door,” Esther said.
As for daily papers, “We got up at 5 a.m., and first put the two sections together. Sometimes we had to put them in a plastic wrapper, and that could be a pain, because it took more time. We either put the papers in the front door or by the front door,” Esther said. “The daily papers we delivered by bicycle, or we walked, but the Sundays, we used a vehicle because of the bulk of the papers. I delivered with a golf cart this summer.
“The daily route took from one and a half to two hours, and the Sunday deliveries took from two and a half to three hours. Winter time was rough on the route, and I had a few spills on the ice.”
Though the Asfahls farmed, they took up residence in Riceville in 1981 and traveled to the country to tend their farming operation.
“We weren’t semi-retired, when we started out with the paper route; we were still grain farming. By the time I got home from the route and packed lunches, and got out to help on the farm, it was mid-morning,” Esther said.
The biggest change in paper routes is customers now pay directly to the newspapers and no one has to collect, which was the hardest task for their kids, but she said, “The experience of collecting helped our children develop business skills.”
“It was not all about money,” said Esther, who is now in her mid-70s. “We looked at the health and socialization benefits as well. We always had good friendships with our customers.”
Even when Esther was out of town, she encouraged her patrons to call her cell phone if they had delivery issues, and she, in turn, called the paper to straighten out their problems.
Now in full retirement, the Asfahls will spend time with their four children, two who live out of state, and nine grandchildren. Esther serves on several community boards and both Raymond and Esther are active members of the United Church of Christ Church in Riceville, where they lead worship in the absence of their pastor.
With a slight remorse, Esther said, “It’s been 19 and 1/2 years delivering the Globe; I didn’t quite make it to 20. It was a wonderful experience working with the people of Riceville.”