Clifton Park remembers longtime employee who died of cancer

Mike Handerhan, long-time director of the buildings and grounds department with his daughter Kara (left), wife, Lori, and son, Shawn.

PROVIDED PHOTOMike Handerhan, long-time director of the buildings and grounds department with his daughter Kara (left), wife, Lori, and son, Shawn. PROVIDED PHOTO

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — For all the hats Mike Handerhan wore — husband, father, town employee and mentor among them — friends and family recently recalled how profoundly dedicated he was to each role.

Handerhan, 52, who died from cancer in November after being diagnosed in September, was the Clifton Park buildings and grounds supervisor for 28 years. As January approaches, town officials and employees continue to grapple with the loss of a man they described as the hardest worker they had ever met.

Town Supervisor Phil Barrett worked with Handerhan for 18 years. Dan Clemens, who recently became director of the buildings and grounds department, worked with him for two decades.

Handerhan worked closely with most other town departments, as well as volunteers involved with the park districts and local civic organizations.

Barrett noted that Handerhan was a fixture at Town Hall.

“Mike was a special person,” Barrett said. “He could work with just about anything, fix just about anything, drive just about anything. From big equipment to small hand tools.”

 Over the past two years, Clemens had the opportunity to ride along with Handerhan as he went to various calls around town to address residents’ concerns. Those trips, he said, taught him patience.Handerhan’s ability to handle problems while remaining calm and levelheaded was something Clemens admired, and a trait he hopes to emulate in his work as the new director.

Whether it was an angry resident yelling at him or dealing with a slight hiccup during the town’s Fourth of July celebration, Handerhan, never wavered from his calm, collected “can-do” attitude, Clemens said.

“Somehow, he was able to calm [people] down while being nothing but courteous and respectful,” he said. “I really respected that a lot with Mike. I loved the guy for it, and if I could be nearly as good as he was at it, I’ll be happy with myself.”

But the dedication to his job didn’t necessarily mean Handerhan was a stick in the mud. Clemens reminisced about a prank some workers played on Handerhan during lunch. Handerhan always used hot sauce on his sandwich, and one day, some of the department employees decided to switch out his normal hot sauce for a much spicier sauce.

Clemens recalled Handerhan being mystified over the fact that his sandwich was suddenly spicier than it had ever been, though he continued to calmly eat it. Eventually, Handerhan was told about the prank and took it in stride.

Mentor to many

Handerhan also served as a mentor to many young town employees who were either working during the summer months or were hired after graduating from high school or college. He inspired many of them to work for the town long-term, Clemens added.

But Handerhand’s dedication was not exclusive to his work. According to his wife, Lori, complete dedication was simply part of who he was, and something he brought to every part of his life.

Lori met her husband of 30 years in Corinth, where their families camped at the same campground. Handerhan and the couple’s two children spent a lot of time continuing the camping tradition, as well as traveling to Ocean City, Maryland, and, most recently, Disney World.

“He was very dedicated to me and the kids and the family,” she said. “He always put other people first before himself.”

A fan of the Oakland Raiders and the band Rush, Handerhan wasn’t content to sit still and had many part-time jobs. He worked at the Maine Street Grille, Rainbow Sprinklers, and was a commissioner and safety officer for Arvin Hart Fire Department in Stillwater for many years.

Glen Valle, president of the Country Knolls Civic Association, also worked closely with Handerhan for more than two decades.

“To say that Mike was a nice guy is an understatement,” Valle said. “He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered.”

One of the most striking things about Handerhan, Valle explained, was the fact that he understood how integral public places like pools and parks are to creating stable communities. As such, Handerhan took concerns and issues with the parks and pools very seriously.

“He got that public places have an important role in making a community home to people,” he said.

But perhaps more ingrained in Valle’s memory was simply Handerhan’s presence, which was almost always topped by a hat.

“No one wore a hat finer than Mike,” Valle said.