Joanne Trombley knew something was up when the postman handed her a bundle of letters held together with rubber bands. Then another. And another.

All told, Trombley has received nearly 600 pieces of mail over three days beginning last Thursday. She expects to get at least another 500 letters by the end of the week. The Art Cover Exchange organization, of which she is a member, has made her the “target” of its annual Great ACE Day.

Sitting on a chair in her living room, a shopping bag from a Target department store overflowing with letters at her feet, Trombley tried to wrap her head around the sheer volume of mail headed her way.

“I won’t even start to sort them all out until the end of the week, once I think most of them have gotten here,” Trombley said. She pointed to her head and added, “It’s more than you could ever take in up here.”

Each August, the 80 or so members of ACE send boxes of mail art ranging from comic strips pasted on envelopes to original drawings and old stamps out to fellow members across the United States and as far away as New Zealand. The so-called target is nominated by other members and is given a false target of their own to keep them in the dark.

Four members, including club secretary John Martin, live in Centralia, the most in any one location. Rochester resident Dennis Gelvin, who serves as secretary of the Olympia Philatelic Society (stamp and postal collecting), is also on the roster.

According to Martin, club membership skews older, though they count a few teenagers and one 11-year-old among their ranks. Participation involves aspects of being a pen pal, artistry and enjoyment of a very specific hobby. Other local members include Marilyn Parker and Barb Tippery.

Martin is the common link between all of the local ACE members. He was brought into the fold by a man named Charlie Delgado of Elyria, Ohio. Delgado is the one who nominated Trombley this year for the role of target, Martin said.

“I was a rural mail carrier in Centralia when I first became interested in stamps,” Martin said. “I sent away for a special collection from Ohio, which Charlie saw. He sent a note back asking if I’d be interested in ACE and I’ve been a part of it ever since.”

Many ACE members carry particular themes throughout their mailings. Martin is a fan of Tarzan, Gelvin said, so he’ll likely receive a number of related items this week. Trombley likes frogs, so she drew versions of the animal on many of the letters she mailed out as part of the Great ACE Day.

Gelvin was the target in 2007, three years after Martin received the honor. Gelvin said that last year’s target was a woman in Illinois who received more than 1,100 individual mailings, a number Trombley has a chance to top.

As for what members do with all the envelope covers they give and receive on an annual basis, there are only so many options.

“I’ve got them in boxes around here,” Gelvin said. “It’s the definition of a hobby. It’s a thing we do just for the fun of it. Nobody’s going to make any money on the stamps, or anything like that.”

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