Perez, LaPaglia, & Duron Family

Melba (LaPaglia) Perez fondly recalls her father, Vincent LaPaglia, as a very industrious man.  Vincent immigrated from Calachie-Veta, Sicily (Italy), to Chicago.  He then later moved to Colorado where he mined coal for a time.  When Vincent settled in Chandler, he bought 40 acres of land and began farming.  On April 28, 1918, Vincent married Melba's mother, Carmen Duron.  Carmen immigrated from Sonora, Mexico, to Chandler where she lived on the Duron family farm.

On May 11, 1919, Melba (LaPaglia) Perez was born in Chandler.  Melba spent her childhood on the family farm located at the corner of Pecos and Dobson roads. The Vincent LaPaglia family grew to five children: Melba, Carlos, Tony (who died as an infant), Richard and Jesus (also known as Chui).   As children, Melba and her siblings were expected to do household chores and work on the farm.  Melba’s youngest brother Jesus learned to become a cotton farmer and continues to farm today.

Vincent LaPaglia was innovative.  He became the first farmer to produce lettuce crops in the Chandler area. He was successful in harvesting cotton, raising animals and selling eggs to Basha's grocery store in the 1930s.

Melba remembers her father making fresh pasta, Italian sausage, and sharing various dishes with other Italian families from the area. The LaPaglia's lived comfortably and modestly until their father Vincent’s illness and subsequent death. Melba’s mother, Carmen, kept her family going by exclusively living off their land.  Frugal and hard working, Carmen and her children strengthened their self-sufficiency by raising chickens, cows, vegetables, eggs and milk.

The LaPaglia family endured hardships during the Great Depression and WWII. Melba's brother, Carlos, was a seaman who survived the infamous Japanese torpedo attack of the U.S.S. Indianapolis on July 30, 1945. Carlos LaPaglia was one of 317 men who  survived five days of dehydration and shark attacks in the South Pacific before being rescued by plane. More than 880 U.S Naval Officers were lost at sea when the U.S.S. Indianapolis sank. Carlos returned to Chandler where he lived until his death in 1956.

Melba attended Cleveland Elementary School and later Chandler High School. In the 11th grade she met Frank Perez. Melba and Frank were married in 1940.  Frank Perez made his living by providing laborers to harvest local farmers’ crops. One of Frank’s contracts was with Bogle Farms.  Frank also built up his own farm product brokerage and hauling business.  Frank and Melba have nine children: Vincent, Delia, George, Christina, Betty, Ernie, Robert, Susan and Cindy.  Since 1958, all nine children were raised in their family home on West Frye Road.

Melba Perez became a teacher’s aide and an asset to Denver Elementary School.  Her mentor, Principal Thomas Wood, encouraged her to continue her education. In 1970, she received her G.E.D.  Melba became a serious college student at the age of 50.  She entered Mesa Community College and ultimately, Arizona State University.  In her three years of studies there, she accomplished her undergraduate degree in elementary education.  Melba completed graduate school within one year.

Her ability to raise nine children and earn a Master’s Degree is highly commendable.
As of 1973 she was the only person from her family to graduate from college.  She taught at Denver Elementary from 1972 until retiring in 1981.  Melba’s brother and biggest fan, Jesus LaPaglia, is very supportive of his sister’s success as a schoolteacher.  Melba believes that with commitment and dedication anyone can push forward, receive an education and succeed.

Biography Research Submitted by Mary Polanco-Gerlach & Diane Brown

Images Submitted by The Perez Family & The LaPaglia Family

Carlos LaPaglia onboard USS Indianapolis, 1945