CARLSBAD — You could say that Sharra Kliebenstein’s career with the U.S. Postal Service got off to a bumpy start in 1988 when she caused a traffic accident two days before the end of her probationary period as a mail carrier. Despite that, she went on to experience one of the greatest honors in the 235-year history of the institution.
Kliebenstein was an employee at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 when a friend mentioned that the postal service was hiring.
“I didn’t like the idea of working around radiation, particularly because I hadn’t had any children yet,” she said. “I bought a book on how to take the post office test, started studying, and passed with a score of 96.8 percent.”
It took 18 months, but in January 1988 Kliebenstein was hired as a part-time mail carrier in the Carlsbad post office. She was 23.
She was two months and 28 days into her three-month probationary period when she made a fateful U-turn on El Camino near La Costa Avenue that caused two bicyclists to sideswipe her as she was pulling over to a line of mailboxes.
“I didn’t see them approaching,” she remembers. “Then they thought I left the scene when I went to make a phone call to get help. This was before cell phones.”
Kliebenstein returned after making the call, but damage to her fledgling career was already done.
“My supervisor apologized and said he had to fire me,” she said. “It wasn’t his decision, it was the rules.”
But there was good news. The same supervisor gave her a tip that in two weeks a new clerk position was opening up. Kliebenstein was ecstatic. “I was grateful because I hated having a route and being a clerk was what I really wanted to do.”
Kliebenstein always enjoyed singing and in 1994 won a competition to perform the National Anthem on Employee Day at a Padres game at what is now Qualcomm Stadium.
Four years later USPS media contact Eva Jackson tapped her to fill in for Olivia Newton-John and later actress Ann Jillian after each star backed out of an agreement to perform the National Anthem at the unveiling of the Breast Cancer commemorative stamp at a Padres game. Kliebenstein was surprised.
“I thought, ‘If you had people of that stature originally, why would you ask me?’” she said, still wondering. “I was impressed with myself!”
Over the years, Kliebenstein was recruited to sing the National Anthem for unveilings of other stamps including Masters of American Photography in 2002, the Purple Heart at the VA Hospital in 2003, the Reptiles and Amphibians at the San Diego Zoo also in 2003, and the Marvel Comics Super Heroes at the Comic Con Convention in 2007.
She says the most emotional experience by far was on Nov. 7, 2001, at Patrick Henry High School when her private wish to be chosen to perform the National Anthem for the unveiling of the United We Stand stamp commemorating Sept. 11 became a reality.
“Lo and behold, my prayer was answered,” she said, smiling. “Sept. 11 impacted a lot of people. You felt an overabundance of love and togetherness. It was magnetic.”
In 2005, Kliebenstein was honored again when she was among nine postal clerks in the nation named USPS Postal Ambassadors.
Looking back on almost 23 years with the Carlsbad Post Office, Kliebenstein says she has no regrets.
“I like interaction with the public,” she said. “I enjoy meeting new personalities, including unpleasant ones, and the challenge that maybe I can see them smile before leaving.”