Back Story with Fred Curry

TOP: In this photo from the 1970s, Fred Curry bowls a frame at the bowling alley in the student union. BOTTOM: Curry (left) and Postmaster Ken Oglesbee help Ty Abernathy, the last customer on the last day of the Mississippi State post office’s operation in the YMCA Building.

I was born at the University of Mississippi hospital in Jackson, but don’t hold that against me. When I realized where I was I cried like a baby and got out of there as quickly as I could.

I grew up in rural Hinds County working on farms with my family and that led to my first connection to Mississippi State University. As a teenager, I helped individuals haul hay off of the Extension Service’s Brown Loam Branch Experiment Station. I often wondered why they would raise good hay to basically just give it away, but they were growing it for research. That’s when I began to appreciate the notion of gaining knowledge and sharing it.

After taking pre-engineering courses at Hinds Junior College, I transferred to Mississippi State University in 1978 to study agriculture and civil engineering. It was hard, not only because our engineering program is tough but also because, beyond textbooks, it was hard to access resources.

People working together and sharing information is important, so other students and I set out to help by establishing the MSU Society of Black Engineers. Some people thought it was just about black students but it was more than that. There was a special need to make mentors available to us, and the administration worked with us to bring in speakers—both black and white—to share information. It felt good to see the program working.

After I left Mississippi State in 1980, I wanted to put my college classes into action. I went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an engineering technician helping farmers with various projects, and in my free time I helped build Kingdom Halls across the state. I wanted to share my knowledge to help people better themselves, and that’s something I’ve kept with me while working at the post office.

I returned to Mississippi State in 1987 as a postal employee. At that time, it was still located in the YMCA building. It wasn’t built to be a post office, but we made it work and enjoyed the location. It was centrally located and put us at the heart of things where we could vicariously be part of what was going on. For me it was special because, as a student, I had a mailbox there— Box 2066. Like many students, my post office box was my lifeline to home. Through the years boxes were not only in the YMCA but in the Union and basement of Lee Hall, too.

That’s a unique service for students. We’re one of the only college campuses to have a federal post office, which is why Mississippi State has its own zip code—39762. And, thanks to Postmaster Ken Oglesbee, I’ll bet we’re the only one to have a cowbell people ring for service.

Times change and so does how we communicate, but that doesn’t mean the mail is obsolete, like some people say. At our new location, we have 5,929 post office boxes and received more than 1 million pieces of mail last year.

From letters to parcels, every piece of mail we handle is important to someone and shares something vital, whether it’s advertising to bring customers to a local business, a research grant proposal, Edam cheese, season tickets or an acceptance letter letting someone know they’re about to be a Bulldog.

Fred Curry is a native of Raymond. In 1978, he helped found and served as president of what is now Mississippi State’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. He is in his 40th year as a federal employee, including 22 years with the post office at Mississippi State University—one of only a few college campuses to have its own federal post office. He is married to Debra Curry, who recently retired from the university’s financial aid office.