Larry Rotelli, a longtime refuse collector and former local politician, retired as a garbage truck driver last week.
Rotelli, 76, has been carrying on the family business, started by his grandfather in the early 1900s, for more than 40 years. His garbage man political image also brought him some national press.
“It’s the first time the Rotelli name hasn’t been associated with garbage,” he said with a laugh on Tuesday while sitting in his backyard in Sonora.
Rotelli said he hadn’t planned initially to go into the family business. The Korean War veteran started working at Sonora Refuse around 1967, to help out after his father became sick. His mother was running the small business at the time, though a few years later Rotelli took over as the owner to relieve her of the responsibility.
Sonora Refuse was started by his grandfather Frederico Rotelli, who hauled away garbage on carts pulled by horses and cows. Rotelli has a photo at his home showing his grandfather with his first motorized garbage truck, wearing what today would be a formal shirt, vest and hat.
Around 1980, Rotelli decided to get out of life as a business owner. He said he was wearing down from all the bookkeeping, management and other day-to-day tasks required to run a company. His wife, Dixie, was also putting in time helping run the show.
He sold Sonora Refuse to Art Lawrence, though part of the deal was he wanted to keep driving the trucks for the company. Rotelli continued working as a driver on commercial routes until last week, even as the company went through multiple ownership changes until coming under national company Waste Management.
Rotelli said he was “relieved” to no longer be the business owner. But he couldn’t think of doing something else at the time.
“I didn’t know what else the hell to do,” he said. “All I had to do was go to work and do a certain amount of routes, and I was done for the day. … It kept me healthy. It kept me outdoors.”
Over decades he served on the Sonora City Council and Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, maintaining the “garbage man” tag.
His campaigns had slogans like “He might be smelly, but vote Rotelli,” and his unique job for politicians got him a few features in news outlets like the National Enquirer and the ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings.
“It was sort of nice to have that kind of recognition, especially being a garbage man, to get that kind of exposure,” he said.
Rotelli said he figured now is a good time to finally get out of the business. He and Dixie, who have been married 51 years, say they plan to travel and spend more time with family, including three children who live both locally and in Texas. And he’ll be able to go on walks with their dog, Bella, now that he won’t be driving the regular routes.
“It will be different not having to get up at four o’clock,” Rotelli said.