When William L. Ridenour was sworn in yesterday as Baltimore's postmaster, it was the high point of a 27-year career that began when he became a letter carrier and steadily rose through the ranks of the U.S. Postal Service.
Ridenour, who was born and raised in Baltimore, is the first Baltimorean to serve as the city's postmaster since 1966. It's a huge leap from the days when he endured rain, snow and barking dogs to deliver the mail in city neighborhoods.
"This was really the job I strived for since I was a letter carrier in Baltimore," said Ridenour, who lives in Essex with his wife of 23 years, Anna.
"I feel that my knowledge of the city and the area will better help me serve the needs of my customers," he said.
Ridenour has been acting postmaster since January. He oversees all the Baltimore post office branches and about 2,200 employees.
The Navy veteran worked his way up through several management and postmaster positions. But Ridenour said his heart - and home - have always remained in Baltimore, even when he was postmaster in Alexandria, Va., in 2005.
"I never left," said Ridenour, 51. "I commuted."
Ridenour has also been postmaster of the Aberdeen and Pasadena post offices.
Past supervisors and employees said Ridenour's dedication to his job and to Baltimore made him the perfect choice for the job.
"All the time we've known him, he's aspired to be postmaster of Baltimore," said Dottie Wileman, a retired Baltimore Postal Service manager who has known Ridenour for about 20 years. "We've all been anxiously waiting for him to get the position."
Wileman's husband, Ron - also a retired Postal Service manager who has known Ridenour for about two decades - said the postmaster is a good friend and hard worker who knows how to get along with people.
"He put all his heart into what he did," Wileman said.
Those who have worked with him say it's an asset that he knows Baltimore so well.
"He knows the people. He knows the geography. He knows the area. He knows the customers," said C. Michael Harlow, a Postal Service district manager for Baltimore. "The nice part is, he's my right-hand man."
Past and current co-workers joined Ridenour and his family downtown at the War Memorial Building for his installation ceremony, presided over by John E. Potter, postmaster general and chief executive officer of the United States Postal Service.
"He's the embodiment of what we like to see in a manager," Potter said. "Bill is a person who has devoted himself to his job and his family."
The approximately 100 people who attended the ceremony stood to applaud Ridenour and gave him congratulations and praise.
"He has the post office in his heart," said William Neal, a Baltimore post office manager and Ridenour's colleague for 20 years.
"I've known him to go out at 12 o'clock at night and collect the mail. That's how dedicated he is."
Twenty-seven years ago, Ridenour and his younger brother, Tom, applied for Postal Service jobs. Tom, who was rejected, jokes that without his prodding, his older brother would not have sought the job that sparked his Postal Service career.
"It's my fault," Tom Ridenour said with a grin.