EXETER, Pa. — Tom Tomsak has been a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service for nearly three decades. But for the last 17 of those 30 years, he has not walked his route alone.
"17 years," Tomsak repeated.
"17? That's a long time. Man, I'm old," his friend responded.
Tom Tomsak was born and raised in Luzerne County. One day, shortly after he was assigned a route in Exeter, someone started following him.
"Who is this guy? What does he want? Does he want his mail? I really didn't know who he was. Then I started my next block, and all of a sudden, he's back at my truck again," Tomsak recalled.
Tomsak remembers that day from 17 years ago because it was the day he met who he later learned is Andy Cooper. Andy followed Tom around all day that day and then pretty much every day since.
"It does not matter what it's doing out. Rain, sleet, snow. If I'm out, he's out," Tomsak explained.
Andy had trouble breathing when he was born and was left with a cognitive disability. His family says meeting Tom has changed Andy's life.
"It would be just the street at first because he was curious to see what he was doing. Tom was super-friendly to him, and he did his best to understand Andy, and he did great with him. He did really great with him. And it just exploded since then," Andy's father Don Cooper said.
Neighbors in this part of Exeter tell us their kids have grown up watching Tom and Andy. Matt Benton was just a baby when the relationship formed. Matt is now 19, and his mother says he makes sure to give Andy a Diet Coke whenever he passes by.
"Everybody here on Grant Street loves Andy. He stops to visit with us when he's walking with Tommy. Tommy does his route, and Andy stays and chitchats with all the neighbors on this block," JoAnn Benton said.
And since Andy likes structure, his daily visits with neighbors are good for him.
"It's a good neighborhood for him to grow up in. I couldn't think of him living anywhere else. I really couldn't," Andy's dad said.
Andy likes names.
"Who are you?" Andy asked us. "Ally. Corey. Tommy. Andy," he listed our names while pointing to us.
Once we got that cleared up, we went on with our interview. Andy knows the name of everyone in the neighborhood. And he knows where everyone lives.
"Thomas Street. Schooley Ave. Orchard Street. How about Grant Street? Yes, we do that street too. He knows all the streets in town," Tom and Andy explained.
Tom and Andy talk about anything and everything, something neighbors notice.
"He loves to talk. He loves to tell you about new things. He'll tell you anything," said Tami Cannell.
Or sometimes Andy listens to his headphones when they don't feel like talking at all.
"There's times we joke around, too. We do have a little fun here and there. He'll tell me a joke; he'll cut me off when I'm talking," Tom joked while Andy tried to talk over him.
Yes, they fight, too. But they never stay mad for too long.
"When he's with me, it's a smile on this guy's face every single day."
Even under his Steelers mask, you can certainly still see the smile.
"He's like an ambassador of this town. I'm honored to have him with me. It makes my day go by a lot faster," Tomsak said.
For eight hours a day, walking side by side.
"For the last 17 years, it's been a pleasure to have this good old man with me. Good old man."
And that's why we give a 16 Salute to letter carrier Tom Tomsak and his good friend Andy Cooper.