FARMINGTON — Steve Begay became the youngest, and first American Indian postmaster in the Farmington Post Office's 134-year history on Friday.

Begay, originally from Shiprock, never thought he would become a postmaster, though he always has been a fan of the system, which he now will oversee.

"It's personal. You get a letter, you see the emotion in the letter," said Begay, who is 37 and a member of the Navajo tribe.

Begay began working for the postal service in 1999, after serving in the United States Marine Corps.

While stationed in Bosnia with the Marine Corps, he used to receive letters from his girlfriend, who is now his wife. It was their only form of communication, he said.

"I still have those letters," he said. "I would keep them in my pocket and read them again, and again."

Upon return from his service overseas, Begay aspired to be either a firefighter or a police officer, and applied for both positions with the city of Tempe, Ariz. However, he also applied to another position with the city — one at the local post office.

"The post office was the first one to get back to me, so I took the job," Begay said.

Over the years, Begay worked at several other post offices before coming to the Farmington Post Office in 2005.

"I hire people not for their can-do,' but their want-to,'" said former Farmington Post Office Postmaster Billy Smith, acting Post Office Operations Manager in Las Cruces. "Here is a guy with a lot of want-to.'"

Begay worked many of the less desirable jobs, such as those requiring night shifts, before being considered for his new position — but he always did so with a pleasant attitude, Smith said.

Begay hopes to continue the success that the Farmington Post Office has had in recent years. Of 265 offices in the region, Farmington has ranked second in service for the past two years.

The office last year was responsible for delivering 18 million pieces of mail and 150,000 packages to 21,000 addresses in the area.

It generated $3.8 million in sales revenue, and paid its approximately 60 employees about $4.4 million in salaries and benefits.

Last year, the office announced that it would no longer process mail in Farmington, which saved the office money but also downsized its role somewhat. About seven employees retired last year, which meant the office did not have to lay off anyone.

It means that mail sent from one Farmington address to another takes an additional day to arrive because it first has to be sent to Albuquerque.

"The post office is in a transitional period ... and I don't know what the future looks like," Smith said, though he said he was confident that good service would keep customers coming far into the future.

Begay agreed, saying that while the volume of mail has dropped in recent years because of the popularity of online communication, the mailing of packages has risen sharply and nearly doubled nationwide.

"My main vision, priority is providing service," Begay said.