Most Maderans know that at one time, the Big Top Drive-In, located at the end of Yosemite Avenue, was the western terminus for young people who spent many happy hours “dragging main” in the evenings. In the same vein, consider another Madera establishment, Monty’s liquor; everyone remembers that place, and if one goes back far enough, he might find someone who remembers Madera’s Valley Market.
These well-known local landmarks were the work of children of the Stefanellis and the Montanaris, immigrants who left their native Italy more than 100 years ago to come to America.
Determined to find a better life for his family, Rinaldo Stefanelli left his wife, Assunta, and daughter, Lena, in Italy and worked his way across the Atlantic on a steamer in 1902. By 1905, he had settled in Madera and was working for the Italian Swiss Colony Winery located here. That’s when he sent for his wife and 3-year-old daughter.
Within a few years, Rinaldo saved enough money to begin farming on his own. Since the winery was cutting back on production, it offered to sell him one of their grape farms, which was located just half a mile south of the old Howard School...