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Seven Years as Santa’s Helper

Dianne Gentel and Dan SheldonIn the summer, the harbors of northern Lake Michigan towns bustle with sailboats, jet-skis and sport-fishing boats. Regional art shows and festivals of all sorts play host to throngs of tourists who frequent downtown streets. 

It’s this annual tourist migration that supports cottage industries and a steady seasonal economy that survives despite being within the larger Michigan market. A market that never seemed to quite pull out of the last recession before the current one landed like a tsunami and washed across the already beleaguered state. 

Dianne Gentel is one of those local northern Michiganians who follows the ebb and flow of the seasons. 

In summer, when the tide of tourists is at its height, Dianne has worked at area wineries, catering companies and a local bank. When summer ends, a second smaller wave of tourists drift through to see the autumn colors but, at the first chill of winter, the tourists return to their homes and the population dwindles.  

“In this part of the country, my jobs fizzle out in the fall,” said Dianne. 

Then, one day in November of 2004, Dianne walked into the Traverse City UPS customer center to ship a package. As she chatted with the customer clerk, she mentioned that she was looking for a job. 

“Well, we’re hiring,” said the clerk.

That’s all Dianne needed to hear. “I turned in my application and the next thing I knew, I was in brown,” she laughed. 

Dianne was no stranger to UPS.  Her brother, Rick Smigiel, has been with the company since 1982 and works across the state in Kalamazoo. “UPS is in the family,” she said. She’s now back for her seventh consecutive year as a UPS seasonal helper, doing a job that perfectly fits her seasonal schedule and her preferred job type.  

“I always look forward to jobs that put me in touch with the public and this fills that niche,” said Dianne. 

In recent years, Dianne has worked mostly with Dan Sheldon, who delivers to the town of Northport.

After working together for a number of years, the two make an efficient team. “It’s a long day,” said Dianne. “You have to have a sense of humor. Sometimes the weather is really bad but you just keep going.  I do my best to get each package delivered quickly.” 

“Dianne makes my life a lot easier,” said Dan. “She’s got a great attitude and great customer relations.” Since Dianne’s summer jobs are located along the route, she already knows many of the customers. Navigating the remote and often drifted paths to the homes and businesses on the route is no small task, but Dianne is more than up for the challenge.  “I’m an outdoor enthusiast so this is right up my alley,” she said. “Depending on the time of year, I’m either snowshoeing, skiing or sailing.” 

Diane admitted, however, that the work is demanding. “I’m tired at the end of the day but this is a job made in heaven,” she continued. “I get chauffeured around one of the most beautiful counties [Leelanau] in the country and, every now and then, Dan hands me a package and I get to jump out and deliver it. It’s like having a personal trainer.”

Dan said the customers look forward to seeing Dianne each year. “They start to ask when she’ll be back,” he said. 

“I feel like Santa’s helper,” said Dianne. “It’s fun when people greet you at the door and they’ve been waiting for the package.  To see their excitement, it’s just fun. 

“UPS is a great company,” she continued. “I see firsthand the dedication to helping people and getting their packages delivered on time.  I’m really proud to work for a company that’s so well-respected. That’s one of the reasons I like coming back every year.” 

Reflecting on her yearly return as a seasonal helper, Dianne summed it up simply, “Something just feels right about coming back to UPS.”

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