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Marking the way: Utica employees remember longtime city sign foreman

UTICA, N.Y.--For years, Utica's sign department functioned with dozens of employees, creating signage to mark the city's streets, stops and traffic signals.

Posted: Jan 29, 2018 6:56 PM

UTICA, N.Y.--For years, Utica's sign department functioned with dozens of employees, creating signage to mark the city's streets, stops and traffic signals.

In the last 25 years, the department dwindled to two people, making new street signs for the whole municipality.

Sunday, one of those dedicated employees died, years after a cancer diagnosis. 

Mike Fanelli's co-workers say he would much rather be remembered for his decades of service to the city.

"Mike was the sign guy," Mark Sokolowski, Fanelli's successor said. "He wanted the city to look as nice as it could be. He would drive around and he would see a crooked sign. We would have to get out there and we'd have to straighten that sign out."

Fanelli carried a memento of his work into retirement two years ago.

"He had a tattoo of himself that we used to joke with him about, of him holding a stop sign," Sokolowski said. "He had it on the shoulder."

City employees say Fanelli was retired in name only.

"When Mike became ill, you would have never known that he was ill," Mayor Robert Palmieri said. "He would never even acknowledge it, he just kept on going."

"When I was taking this job over and Mike retired, Mike would call me and say 'Mark, there's a stop sign crooked,'" Sokolowski said.

"Everything he did was to the highest degree and the highest standard," George Sabo, a city employee and friend of 30 years said. "He was an all-around dedicated city of Utica employee."

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