Longtime Erie County employee Tom Mello can look back on a career full of pothole filling, emergency roadway responses, and of course, snow.
"People say you are married to this place in the wintertime, and it is so true," Mello said with a chuckle during a conversation about his upcoming retirement.
The Erie County Assistant County Manager is a 35-year veteran of the snowplowing game and is proud of the service he and his colleague provide to residents and motorists.
"I truly believe [Erie County] employees are right up there with anyone in the country when it comes to plowing snow and managing winters. Our operators are really good at what they do," Mello said. "Anyone can patch a pothole, but not everyone can plow a foot of snow."
Mello joined the Erie maintenance crew in 1985, as an equipment operator trainee. He applied at the suggestion of a family member and was attracted to the position because of the department's benefits package.
Over the years, he moved through the ranks, first as an operator A then a B. By 2004, Mello had been certified on several different pieces of equipment but wanted to do more.
"I just started getting bored, so I jumped on as a foreman," he said.
From there is spend several years leading different crews and inspecting different activities, such as tree trimming, herbicide applications, and mowing.
"I pretty much did it all," he said.
"Tom's job knowledge, work experience and high level of dedication has contributed to the county's continued success," said Jim Shaut, Erie County Manager.
When the opportunity to move up the ranks came again in 2014, Mello became an assistant county manager. He will retire as much at the end of the month.
Among his duties as an assistant, Mello took on the unofficial designation as the county's public face for winter operations. Mello handle numerous media interviews, appearing on camera several times a season. He says it was an easy part of the job because the crews work hard during wintertime.
"When you are an expert, [talking to reporters] is easy to do," he said.
As he closes out his career, Mello says there are some highlights that really stand out among the memories.
In 1995, he and a fellow employee Wes Hess saw two older gentlemen fall from a boat into a cold lake. The two grabbed a canoe that was one scene and used their shovels to paddle out to the men, pulling them to safety. For their actions Mello and Hess received a department award for Heroism, given to them directly from former Transportation Secretary Bradley Mallory.
He also looks at his attendance awards with pride as they represent a personal victory over throat cancer. Mello was diagnosed in 2012 and spent several months on medical leave as he underwent treatments. "For me, that is my biggest accomplishment, being healthy and not taking any sick time," he said.
Another top memory for Mello was receiving the Governor's Award in 2018. Mello was part of the Erie County team honored by Gov. Tom Wolf from their handling of the record-breaking storm that hit Erie during the Christmas season on in 2017.
That Christmas was just one of more than a dozen he's worked over the years, including the very first year he was with the department.
So, what changes has he seen over all those years of working holidays? Easy – technology.
"The trucks are much more powerful now, better wings, bigger plows," he said. And the weather forecasting has become more accurate, making it easier for them to do their jobs and do it well.
"Safety was come a long way, too," he added.
His advice for new employees is simple, be a part of the team and rise above any workplace negativity. "Get on as many committees and be involved as you can be here at PennDOT."
He says that is the secret to his success.
In his retirement, Mello plans to take some time to settle in and then find a way to get more involved in his community. The lifelong Erie County resident has two adult children, a son who works in the golfing industry in Florida and a daughter who will soon graduate with a degree in nursing. "I'm extremely proud of those two," he said.
"It has been a pleasure to work with Tom over the years and he will be missed by all," Shaut said. "Retirement might be an adjustment for a hardworking guy like Tom, but we all hope he has the opportunity to enjoy hunting, golfing, summers on the lake boating and spending time with friends and family. Congratulations on your retirement, Tom!"
"As a career, [PennDOT] was the best thing I could have done," Mello said. "I have met incredible people and traveled the state."
"I'm going to miss the District 1 people for sure," Mello added. "It's been an amazing career."