BOISE -- Harry Hans started out his last day in style.

On Thursday, the morning that would cap his nearly five-decade career as a mailman, Hans donned a tuxedo - "postal blue" - and pinned a red rose boutonniere to his lapel. Then, he climbed into his mail truck and set off along his west Boise route for the final run.

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Even though the time has come to retire, the grandfather of eight will be the first to tell you he still loves his job.

"I've been working for the post office for 48 years. I started April 28, 1969, back in Lorain, Ohio," he said. "I'm proud that I'm a letter carrier working for the United States Postal Service. I think it's the best job in the world, and that's where my heart has been."

His joy in service has not gone unnoticed by the neighbors along his route. For years, he has delighted residents with his warmth, his encyclopedic knowledge about the goings-on on their street, and his insistence on wearing a full beard and shouting "Ho, Ho, Ho!" as he delivers packages in December.

When Victoria Nelson was going through chemotherapy, she said, Hans stopped by her house to check on her and bring her anything she needed.

"He's just good people," he said. "They don't make them like him anymore."

As turned down the first culdesac Thursday, Hans caught sight of the first balloons tied to mailboxes. Street after street they stretched, printed with HAPPY RETIREMENT! and THE BEST IS YET TO COME.

At first, Hans said, he tried to gather up the balloons to take along with him

"Then I went to the next street, and there were more balloons," he said. "And then I looked down the street and I went - 'there's no way I could pull all these balloons in my truck.'"

Nelson said the neighbors had worked together to tie balloons on the mailboxes along the more than 300 homes on the route. More than 100 people had left letters for Hans as well, wishing him good luck and expressing their appreciation for everything he had done.

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Down on the corner of Linstock Street and North Jones Avenue, a party was waiting, complete with cake, drinks, and a throng of neighbors.

Hans said he was "overwhelmed" by the send-off.

"It means everything," he said. "It means that maybe I did something right, I touched some people, because that's what I want to do."

Hans is also leaving the residents with high expectations for his replacement. Nelson said the neighborhood is already working to ensure the next postal carrier to drive down their streets will be ready to become a part of their community.

"They've got some mighty big shoes to fill, and we got to help with the last interviews, so that we know we got a good one," she said with a laugh.

Hans has big plans for life after the Postal Service: He and his wife are planning a long trip east, where they will spend time with family in Ohio and Florida. Without a daily route to attend to, Hans said, he might stay on vacation for months.

"Whenever I get back, I get back," he said. "But I will come back to Idaho, because this is our home."