After more than 40 years of working for Burbank’s Parks and Recreations Department, Michael “Mickey” DePalo settled into retirement in 2008. It lasted for about a week.
After that, DePalo said, it didn’t feel right. He was too used to keeping an active schedule. So he kept on working — volunteering for Meals on Wheels and coaching the cross-country team at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. He joined the city of Burbank Parks and Recreation Board and remained on the Burbank Veterans Commemorative Committee.
But despite the 74-year-old’s seemingly inexhaustible commitment to community involvement, in May DePalo will leave the city he’s spent most of his life in, moving with his wife Ledung DePalo to Illinois to be closer to their son and daughter-in-law, who are expecting a child.
“I’m going to miss this Burbank atmosphere, I’ll tell you that,” DePalo said. “I can’t see anything comparable to it … I have many, many things that I’ll look back on and treasure for the rest of my life.”
DePalo moved to Burbank in 1956, when he was 9 years old. He grew up in the local school district, attending Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, John Muir Junior High School — as it was called then — and Burbank High School.
He spent much of his time playing with friends at the local parks, particularly McCambridge Park — then called Glenoaks Park. It was at those spaces, DePalo explained, that he played baseball, basketball, flag football and other sports.
Before long, he’d find himself working at the same sites. While attending college — he went to Glendale Community College and Cal State Northridge — he volunteered as a baseball coach. The first team he coached was Dino’s Demons, a group sponsored by legendary entertainer Dean Martin.
Despite initially going to college to become a teacher and a coach, DePalo changed his major to recreation administration. He started working part-time for the city of Burbank when he was 19 years old.
“I’ll never be able to give back what Burbank has given me,” he said. ”But I’m making an effort.”
DePalo explained his long resume of service by saying he was raised to “pay it forward” and to help others. He also said he’s dedicated his time to volunteerism because he wants to represent his sister, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and “because she’d be doing the same thing if she could.”
He worked at most of the city’s recreation centers, where he supervised programs — including local sports leagues. From 1987 to 1998, he volunteered as the race director for Burbank’s Race for the Hungry, using his distance running experience to help coordinate the event.
And in 2007, DePalo was inducted into the Burbank Athletics Walk of Fame for his dedication to local sports.
“Mickey’s volunteer efforts have contributed greatly to the betterment of this community,” said Kristen Smith, deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department, in an email. DePalo was once her supervisor.
“He has made a huge impact in Burbank and it is a better place to live because of him,” she added.
A Vietnam War veteran and the chairman of the Burbank Veterans Commemorative Committee, DePalo also coordinated the arrival of “the Moving Wall,” a traveling display of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He still recalls the exact dates it was at McCambridge Park: Feb. 16-22, 1998. It was a rainy week, DePalo recalled, but a total of about 30,000 people visited.
DePalo, who received two “Veteran of the Year” awards from state assembly members, will remain the chairman of the veterans committee and expects to return to Burbank to oversee the Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.
Now preparing to leave the city he’s spent most of his life in, DePalo acknowledged that Burbank is a growing city, but believes it has retained a small-town atmosphere. And, he added, it still needs people willing to help their fellow residents.
“The smallest thing you do is huge for others. I really believe that,” DePalo said. “As a volunteer, you don’t realize the … positive effect you have on the people that you serve.”