The 'gem' of the passport office

Laurel resident Joan Anderson is the "gem" that former Laurel Director of Communications Peter Piringer credits with helping to establish the passport services office at the Laurel Municipal Center, which serves as City Hall.

Anderson, 82, relocated from Washington, D.C., to live closer to her grandchildren in the early 1990s. Shortly after, she retired from the U.S. Postal Service at Union Station in Washington, where she had worked for 34 years.

As a retiree, Anderson served as a docent at the National Postal Museum across from Union Station, an experience she said made her a passionate advocate of Laurel history.

Anderson said she hated being retired and soon started volunteering with the city; and when funds became available, she became a part-time receptionist under the late Mayor Frank Casula, who served from 1994 to 2001.

When Casula agreed to start providing passport application services out of City Hall, she attended passport services training through the State Department.

Anderson has been processing passport applications since, including one for current Mayor Craig Moe.

"Passports aren't just for travel anymore, they're a form of identification for nationalized citizens and their children," she said.

There wasn't a dedicated space for the passport services office at City Hall at the beginning; Anderson said she had to work out of someone else's office.

"Children were crying and phones were ringing," she said.

So she asked Casula for her own space (she had her eye on an old janitor's quarters) and she said he not only agreed but said she could do whatever she wanted with it.

"I wanted a world map because I love history," she said.

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Lhotsky helped Anderson move into the current location. They hung Anderson's map and she began asking clients heading for a unique location to mark their destinations with a pushpin. Twelve years later, it hangs laden with pins, and Anderson keeps it updated.

Visitors would never know the passport services office was once a janitor's quarters.

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