By Bob Uphues
Joe Teresi has been a mail carrier for the past 23 years, the last four or five in North Riverside. He has one of the larger routes in his area, bounded by Cermak Road, 26th Street/Forestview Avenue, 6th Avenue and 11th Avenue.
During that time, there haven't been many occasions where something happened to delay "the swift completion of [his] appointed rounds," as the U.S. Postal Service creed goes.
But on April 21, Teresi temporarily suspended his rounds at about 10:30 a.m. after being approached on 11th Avenue by an 82-year-old man wearing a VFW cap. The man, an Alzheimer's patient, asked Teresi if he knew where he lived.
The elderly man's last name did not ring a bell and he continued to walk north toward Cermak Road. A woman walking down the block told Teresi that the man had asked her the same question, so Teresi decided he needed to act.
"I said, 'I'm going to help that man,'" Teresi, a Channahon resident, told the Landmark. "She asked if I could leave my route, but I said, 'I don't care, this man needs help.'"
Unbeknownst to Teresi, North Riverside police were already looking for the man. His wife had called police about 10 minutes earlier, saying her husband had been missing for a half hour already.
Sgt. David Kopka, who supervises the police day shift in North Riverside, said he was flagged down near the intersection of 17th Avenue and 23rd Street by the man's wife, who reported him missing.
"I just rallied the troops," said Kopka, who along with three other officers fanned out to locate the man and alerted others in the area to be on the lookout for him.
Meanwhile, Teresi hopped into his U.S. Postal Service vehicle and caught up with the lost man, telling him, "Come into my vehicle and I will help you find your home."
It took him only 10 minutes.
Teresi knew the postal carrier who had the route immediately west of his and figured he might recognize the man or his last name. When the man told Teresi he lived in an apartment building on a busy street he figured that had to be 17th Avenue, and drove over there, saying he planned on calling police if it turned out to be a dead end.
As he crossed 17th Avenue, Teresi's passenger said, "That's my neighbor over there."
Teresi pulled over and rolled down his window, asking the neighbor, "Sir, do you know who this man is with me?"
"He excitedly said, 'Yes! We have been looking for him! Thank God you found him,'" Teresi said.
A couple of days after reuniting the man with his wife, Teresi visited the apartment and talked to his wife, who had waved her appreciation from an apartment window on April 21.
"Normally I don't do things like this, but just knowing the situation and the way I felt, it was an extraordinary moment where I felt the need to act," Teresi said.
Kopka said Teresi "saved the day" with his actions and praised his efforts to help the man.
"These guys are kind of another set of eyes and ears for us," Kopka said of the mail carriers.