LOVELAND • There’s plenty to not like about Valentine’s Day.
The pressure of which flowers to buy. The push to have someone to buy flowers for. The onslaught of pink and purple at the grocery store telling you to buy into it all.
You wouldn’t be alone if you hated Valentine’s Day.
But just for kicks, try to let Loveland’s Valentine stampers change your mind.
Here, in the visitors center of a town long ago nicknamed “Sweetheart City,” sit about 50 of the most hard-core believers in Valentine’s Day.
The job of a Valentine stamper is simple and sweet: Hand-stamp piles of cards — more than 100,000 in total — with a special Valentine’s verse and stamp from Loveland, perhaps the most romantic town name. Stampers get through all the cards to be remailed in a span of two weeks.
The job is also highly sought after. The waiting list to be a stamper has more than 100 names on it.
How does someone get a spot?
“Literally someone has to die,” said Teresa Bender, a six-year stamper.
So getting your turn at the “Valentine Station” could take awhile.
“That goes through your mind, because so many people want to do it,” Bender said.
Veterans of Valentine Station like Joan Williams know the history well.
The tradition was started 74 years ago by Ted Thompson, then president of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce, and his wife, Mabel. They had the idea to brand Loveland as “Sweetheart City.”
When she was 11 or so, Williams read about Loveland’s valentine card remailing program in The Denver Post.
“We didn’t have Facebook back then,” she said. “That’s how you found out about things.”
As the newspaper ad instructed, she sent her Valentine’s Day cards to Loveland. She has been stamping other people’s cards for 28 years.
“Never in a dream would I think I’d be doing this,” Williams, who is in her 80s, said.
How it works
Each year, senders seal their Valentine’s Day cards in larger envelopes addressed to the Loveland Post Office. They include the address of their special someone and extra postage for the remailing. Cards start arriving before Christmas.
“When we start getting them, we just hang onto them,” postmaster Cindy Kinney said.
Kinney oversees the stamping and answers questions about missing ZIP codes or stamp placements. She manages it all at the visitors center, which is temporarily an official U.S. Postal Service sub-station.
“It’s probably the most fun part of my job,” she said. “There’s nothing else like this in the world.”
While most of the volunteers stamp normal-sized cards, Williams and Joyce Boston are in charge of bulky or oversized cards.
“We call them chunky monkeys,” Williams said. She and Boston have come to be known as the “Chunky Monkey Crew.”
“It happened years ago,” Williams said. “Someone said, ‘Oh, Joan’ll do that.’ Nobody else wants the job.” She adds her own touch to the oversized packages, adding extra stickers and heart-shaped decorations to the envelopes.
“It’s very special to receive this,” Williams said. “It just means you’re loved. It means you’re a special someone to someone.”
After 22 years, Boston still embraces the program.
“I love seeing where all the cards go,” she said. “As we say, the world needs more love right now.”
The cards go from Loveland to all 50 states, the Boston Children’s Hospital, and as far away as Ukraine, Argentina and Ethiopia. One was addressed to Yoko Ono last year.
Boston often thinks about the person on the other end of the card.
“I’m hoping they’re thinking someone really loves them,” she said.
By the end of a day of stamping, Williams’ thumbs are black from the ink, and it makes her smile.
Like many of the volunteers, she’s retired and helps out here, among other places, to keep busy. She’s pushed herself to stay extra busy since her husband passed away several years ago.
“This is good therapy for a lot of us,” she said. “It’s good to do things, especially if you’re alone.”
She doesn’t feel so alone when she’s working alongside her “Chunky Monkey Crew.” Throughout the year, they’ll get together for dinners, movies and road trips.
“You make good friends doing this,” Williams said. “True friends mean a lot.”
And friendship is a large part of the program, said Williams, who still sends Valentine’s cards each year.
“It’s not just for people who are married,” she said. “You can still have a sweetheart even if your sweetheart is gone.”
The land of Love
Loveland has leaned into its name.
Throughout the city are heart-shaped notes, resembling old-fashioned candy hearts, hanging on streetlights. The local brewery, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, serves a beer called “The Bleeding Heart.”
The town’s mascot is a walking heart named Valentina. There’s a giant “LOVE” sculpture outside the visitors center and a couple once drove up from Oklahoma to get married in front of it. Valentine’s Day-related festivities culminate this weekend with the annual Sweetheart Festival, which includes a group wedding ceremony on Friday.
Don Spillman comes from Maryland every year to stamp with his sister, who used to join the effort with her husband before he died.
“It’s always the people,” he said. “These are just the nicest people.”
Next to him is Cathy Landes, whose name remained on the waitlist for two decades.
“They really love love here,” she said. “They really mean it.”
There are mother/daughter pairs and husbands and wives. There’s Wilma Davis and Paul Wallace, who grew up together in Kansas and went their separate ways after graduating from high school. They found each other again 40 years later.
“We’re not married, we’re just best buddies,” Davis said. “We’ve done so many things together you’d never do alone.”
And there’s Betty Herdner, who is 92 and has been stamping cards since 1987.
“All I can say is when I moved here, instead of sending Christmas cards, you send Valentine’s cards,” she said.
Here, love doesn’t just mean romance, big gestures or boxes of chocolates. It means remembering to mail a card.
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