His Name Was Mike
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

A few weeks ago, I heard about the sudden death of my good friend and mentor, Mike Palanacki. Mike was 12 years my senior and has had a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. Here is an excerpt from Mike’s obituary: Mike was a dedicated employee of the City of Windsor in various positions, retiring from his role as Executive Director of Operations after 37 years of service. In typical Mike fashion, rather than slowing down in retirement, he opted to accept the position of CEO for the Windsor Essex Mobility Group, overseeing the management of the Herb Grey Parkway. He was a devoted employee, working until the day the Lord called him home.

The list of people who posted comments read like a list of Who’s Who. Almost everyone knew Mike. He was passionate about whatever he was doing. My first personal interaction with Mike occurred back in 2007 when, after a special service at my church, Mike took me aside and said something along the lines of, “David, I believe that God will be using you in a very special way to further His Kingdom.” Mike made me feel valued and special. In the following years, I served on some committees with Mike, and his firm but gentle demeanor taught me so much. Often during breaks in our meetings, I would ask Mike for feedback on my comments or how I was facilitating the session. His feedback was as precious as gold to me.

They started Mike’s calling hours with two sessions on Friday and another on Saturday, just before the funeral. As I pulled up to the funeral home 10 minutes early, the parking lot was packed. Over 500 people attended Mike’s funeral, so the lines were long. As I stood waiting to pay my respects to the family, I heard the same story over and over; Mike made you feel special. He had an encouraging word for everyone. At first, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t as special as I thought, but then I realized that Mike was just being the leader that I always knew he was. He looked for the native genius in people and then encouraged them to live out their calling. Perhaps that’s why Mike never retired. After leaving the city of Windsor, he took another job to keep finding and identifying the native genius in others. Mike was what Liz Wiseman would call a multiplier. He brought more out of people than they thought they had to give. People he had touched traveled from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and, yes, Syracuse, NY, to pay their last respects to a man who encouraged them to be all that God created them to be.

We lost a great leader on January 4, 2023. What we haven’t lost is the influence he had on so many of us. I shared with someone close to me that we have lost such an amazing and encouraging man, and they commented, “Maybe you need to step in now.” She was so right. We all need to step up and become multipliers. Finding the native genius in others and then encouraging them to live out their calling. That’s the best way to honor Mike’s memory.