Story last updated at 2:18 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Customers come to defense of veteran 'papergirl'
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Mary Clare Foecke delivering the paper.  
When Mary Clare Foecke's father last visited her, he commented that she must be the oldest paper delivery person around.

"I said, 'No Dad, I'm the youngest by a long shot,'" Foecke said Monday morning while bouncing down Diamond Ridge Road in her dust-covered maroon Subaru filled with newspapers, spare parts, and her dog Angel.

"Dad was completely chagrined. I had a Stanford degree and I was holding onto a paper route," she said with a laugh. "But that's part of the fabric of a small town."

It's fabric Foecke knows pretty well.

  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Mary after negotiating some rough roads.  
But after a decade, Foecke's delivering days may be numbered because, she says, the Anchorage Daily News isn't paying her fairly. The paper had no comment on the matter.

Foecke can name details about the people who live in her delivery area like they were old friends, and many are. At one house, she leaves a note asking for some seed potatoes and points to a big greenhouse where later in the summer she often picks vegetables. At another, Foecke noted the woman often baked her "goodies," but hadn't been feeling well lately. At one with a nearly vertical driveway, Foecke noted the woman wasn't home, but someone had moved her papers. There's a house where someone often meets her with a coffee pot, she said. And then there's Lyle West, a long-time Alaskan who waits for Foecke each morning before eating breakfast. She's one of only a few West sees each week, he said while munching on a cookie she shares with him.

"I find people really fascinating," said Foecke, who has a degree in psychology. "I love figuring out how to make them happy. If I can figure out how to make somebody smile, it makes my day."

Foecke said the route also provides her with time to think, a rare pleasure in her hectic life.

  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Foedke chats with paper customer Lyle West.  
"It's really meditative. You know the phone won't ring," she said. "It's a myriad of small, twisted pleasures."

But there's a downside, too.

According to Foecke, the costs of car repair, gas and self-employment taxes must come out of her pay of 31 cents per paper. In addition, her route has grown to span 90 miles, most of it unpaved, and takes five to six hours each morning. The route is so big, she often splits it with her partner Donna Beran or Eileen Mullen, and others have taken portions in the past.

All that might be fine, Foecke said, if it weren't for the fact that another route in the Homer area, one she said has better roads and a shorter route, gets 10 cents more per paper than she does.

  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
A license plate keeps apers away from dogs.  
Several weeks ago, after failed attempts to bargain with the Anchorage Daily News for a raise, she submitted her resignation. At the same time, she inserted a note in her papers telling readers what was happening.

Though her supervisor would not comment to the Homer News on the number of calls, e-mails and letters received, Foecke said she was told that 30 to 40 percent of her customers called to complain. Some, such as Terry and Joan Nininger, went straight to the top, contacting Anchorage Daily News publisher Mike Sexton.

"She's just a wonderful person," Joan Nininger said.

She and her husband wanted Sexton, as well as others at the newspaper, to know what an advocate Foecke is for the Anchorage Daily News.

"She's got this relationship with all of us individually, and she's always coming through for all of us. I don't think they realize the personal attention that she gives to all of us," she said.

After Foecke initially gave her notice, the newspaper worked out a two-week contract extension with her, which was then extended two more weeks, Foecke said Wednesday. She said she was offered 38 cents per paper last week, but didn't accept it because she believes she should be paid the same as her coworkers in the area.

"All I'm asking for is parity with another route down here," she said, adding that since she has been delivering the paper, the cost of a copy of the Anchorage Daily News has doubled.

Foecke said she thinks part of the problem between her and the Daily News circulation department is that the route is unusual. Few houses have marked addresses and the roads can be treacherous.

"Homer is a completely different animal," she said. "They don't understand the small town aspect. They don't understand that retaining consistency benefits their bottom line."

Though the Daily News refused to comment on the specific's of Foecke's situation, Circulation Director Jim Fetsch said the paper does realize the advantages to having long-time paper carriers.

As for Foecke, Fetsch would only say, "We appreciate the job that Mary has done down in Homer, and hopefully we will be able to resolve our conflict."

As for Foecke, she said she hopes she will be able to continue delivering papers, and is overwhelmed by the support the community has shown her.

"I had no clue that it mattered to them (her customers)," she said. "That part is so classically Homer. It's an opportunity for Homer to rise up against the behemoth of corporate America."