It would be difficult to find a person in Hotchkiss who doesn't have a story to share about Matt Branham. For 24 straight years Branham has delivered and picked up packages in the North Fork area as a driver for UPS.
When news hit the streets of his retirement last week, UPS brown ribbons were displayed on resident and business doors throughout town and messages appeared on marquees and sign boards and Facebook thanking Branham for his great service. One social media post elevated him to super-hero status as "Mattman."
UPS contracts with the U.S. Postal Service for last-mile delivery services, making the Hotchkiss Post Office one of Branham's daily stops. "He spoils us," said clerk Kris Hillman.
Hillman was among the many citizens who attended a going away party in honor of Branham last Wednesday at Zack's BBQ. "It's hard to believe that Matt's not going to come through that door anymore," said Hillman.
Branham started working for the UPS almost 36 years ago. "It's been quite a journey, but a nice journey," said Branham. The first few years on the job were spent "traveling in every direction" from the UPS Montrose terminal. He eventually accepted an opportunity to deliver to the Hotchkiss area. He figured he could do that for about a year, but after the first year passed, "I thought, 'Well, I'll stay another year.'"
That one year quickly turned into 24 years. "It's a magnificent, magical place," said Branham of the North Fork area. "I soon realized that this valley wasn't just beautiful because of its rolling green landscape and the cool, clean water. It was really the people who live there, their personalities, their kindness, and how they treated me."
Branham said he always tried to be punctual in his work and greet people with a smile. His job has undergone a few changes over the years, including new software and programs that increase efficiency, making deliveries and pickups happen very quickly. But in that short moment, there's "a happy medium" between being efficient and being kind, said Branham.
"I just found that you can be kind to people, and if there's a problem, you try to make it right with them. I try to go, sometimes, beyond the call of duty, and people will remember that. That's not always easy to do, but it can be done."
Branham said there's always a chance he'll be back. He may help out UPS during busy times, he said. He's also involved in youth sports and visits the area occasionally to officiate school basketball games.
Branham said he is humbled by the outpouring of kindness he received in his final days as a UPS driver, that same kindness he's received almost daily over the years. He'd planned a quiet exit, maybe a post on social media to say 'Thank you." He had no idea until last week that the community had bigger plans. "I'm overwhelmed," he said as more people arrived at Zack's, bringing him cards, gifts and a six pack of beer and sharing stories and memories with him and with one another. "It's me who is the lucky one that I got to be here," he said. "Not them."