NIAGARA FALLS, NY — 9-year-old Joey Valenti misses his best friend. That would be "Mr. Tom" from down the block. Mr. Tom is Tom Wilson. He died six years ago.
"He was my best friend," said Joey, and tears started rolling down his cheeks.
When Joey was a toddler, Mr. Tom would sit the boy in his lap as he rode his riding mower. Mr. Tom did not like shaggy lawns. That included the greenway across the road from homes along 62nd Street in Niagara Falls.
Mr. Tom's attention to neighborhood detail made an impression on Joey. His mom says after Mr. Tom's death, her son, then just age four, begged his mother to go take care of Mr. Tom's lawn. So, they did. Then, Joey looked over at the tall grass on the greenway.
"And he was getting upset that it looked rough, too and Mr. Tom wouldn’t like that either,” Shelli Valenti said.
Off they went to tend to the greenway. As Joey got older, he did more of the neighborhood yard work himself, sometimes wielding equipment almost as big as he was.
That's the way it's been for the last five summers. Joey Valenti could be found tidying up the neighborhood, just like Mr. Tom taught him.
Well, word got out about this young man's dedication to neighborhood beautification.
"His enthusiasm for making our city a better place is very much appreciated, not just by his family, not just by his neighbors, but by the city of Niagara Falls as well,” Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said.
On Thursday morning, much of City Hall gathered outside the Valenti home to honor the young man's service. The mayor gave him a proclamation and a pin symbolizing the key to the city. The DPW department gave him a t-shirt and made him an honorary crew member. There was another shirt from the fire department, and a backpack from the police department.
At the end, there was applause for Joey. After, he slipped inside his home, put on his new DPW shirt and carried a lawn-trimmer out to the greenway and got to work taking down tall grass and weeds.
“Because that what’s Mr. Tom would have wanted," Joey said.