OrlandoSentinel.com: Fruitland Park legend retires

From The Orlando Sentinel, December 26, 2013:

Orlando Sentinel carrier tosses route for the last time after 34 years

By Erica Rodriguez, Orlando Sentinel, December 26, 2013

Fruitland Park --- Fred Arthur has delivered the Orlando Sentinel since 1979. He will throw his last paper on Dec. 29. He has a special relationship with his subscribers, often trading vegetable from his garden. (Photo by George Skene, Orlando Sentinel / January 1, 2000)

Fruitland Park — Fred Arthur has delivered the Orlando Sentinel since 1979. He will throw his last paper on Dec. 29. He has a special relationship with his subscribers, often trading vegetable from his garden. (Photo by George Skene, Orlando Sentinel / January 1, 2000)

Fred Arthur started his newspaper route for the Orlando Sentinel in 1979, when more than 50 Americans were being held hostage in Iran, the Village People’s “YMCA” was sweeping the charts and Soviet troops were invading Afghanistan.

Thirty-four years later, the Soviet Union is long gone, America is winding down its own war in Afghanistan – and Arthur is still delivering his papers.

After an enduring career, however, the 72-year-old news carrier is preparing to end another era:

He’ll throw his last papers on Sunday.

“You’ve got to be devoted, if it’s something you want to do,” said Arthur, thought to be the longest-serving carrier currently delivering the Sentinel. “I like doing it.”

Arthur, starting his workday in the dead of night and continuing through dawn, has had his current route stretching across a working-class neighborhood of Fruitland Park for 20 years.

His job begins when most people are watching the late news or already snoozing. He rises at 11 p.m., drinks some coffee and has a snack before traveling to the Leesburg distribution center.

There, he waits for a Sentinel truck laden with papers to arrive between 1 and 2:30 a.m. He inserts a local section and bags each paper — double bagging on rainy days. He does this for up to roughly 300 papers on Sundays.

It’s an occupation for only the hardiest of people, those who are capable of toiling in the wee hours of the night with no prospect for a day off. Arthur said he can’t remember taking a day off for recreation or to visit family.

He said his last long lapse in service occurred in 1997, when he took about a month off to recuperate from surgery after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Even sickness hasn’t stopped him.

“I got the flu about four years ago and I worked right on through it,” he said.

Arthur — who has six children, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren — said he doesn’t he feel deprived by working seven day a week for years.

But this time he’s leaving for good. On Dec. 1, he delivered a note to subscribers that read, “Farewell dear friends and subscribers. It’s been a pleasure to deliver your morning paper over the years, but now it’s time for me to leave.”

His route over the years has often held surprises, including encounters with wildlife. Last year, he was tossing papers from his 2000 Chevy Astro van when he rolled up to an eerie object in the darkness that turned out to be a foraging bear.

On another occasion, Arthur helped catch an armed burglar he saw leave a convenience store. He chased down the man, who hid behind a fallen tree. Arthur shined his headlights on the spot until police arrived.

 

His real satisfaction, however, has been providing the best service possible. He keeps a yellowed scrapbook filled with Christmas cards from customers. When the Massachusetts transplant started in 1979, the newspaper was called the Sentinel-Star and customers used typewriters to leave him messages.

“In all the years we have had newspapers delivered to our house we have never had better or more regular service,” one customer wrote.

Arthur would type replies and sign them to add a professional touch. That’s vintage Arthur, according to Gary Higgins, Orlando Sentinel regional distribution manager.

“He just wants to make sure things are right,” Higgins said, unfailingly seeing to it that customers receive a complete paper that is thrown in the right spot. “He was always caring about that.”

Staff writer Jerry Fallstrom contributed to this report. ericarodriguez@tribune.com or 352-742-5928

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