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Perlongo family patriarch remembered

The best advertisement for the former Perlongo’s Bakery was to simply prop open the door and let the aroma of fresh baked goods do the rest, according to Mary Perlongo, daughter of Josephine and the late Salvatore Anthony Perlongo.

The fresh baked bread, beerrocks, pizza, cookies and cakes made the bakery locally famous. Sal, as he was known to everyone, is being honored by the Madera Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Awards as this year’s memorial recipient.

Perlongo, along with Dr. Mohammad Ashraf, Dale Evans of Evans Feed and Livestock Supply, Kay Rhoads of Peck Printing and Steve Copland of Seabury, Copland and Anderson, will be honored Thursday at the Madera District Fairgrounds during the Lifetime Achievement Awards and Chamber Installation dinner. The dinner begins at 6 p.m. and tickets are $50 per person. For reservations, contact the Madera Chamber of Commerce at 673-3563.

Born on April 25, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, he and his family moved back to Sicily, Italy, when he was 3 years old. The youngest of 13 children, Perlongo left school after the sixth grade and began working at a bakery to help support his family at the age of 9.

He and his sister moved back to Brooklyn when he was 16.

“He spoke English for the first three years of his life, but by the time he moved back to New York, he only spoke Italian,” said his widow Josie.

The two met when they were both 17, with Josie six months older than Sal. He was her first beau and she was his first girl, said Josie. However, Josie refused to marry him until he learned to speak English. The couple courted for four years.

“When I asked my mother if we could get married, she said not until my older sister was wed,” said Josie.

Not deterred Josie’s sister Mary married Sal’s older brother Mario in June of 1949. Sal and Josie married in September. They were married for 56 years when Sal passed.

In 1967, the family, with son Anthony and daughters Diana and Mary, moved to Madera. Their youngest daughter, Vivian, was born in Madera. She is 20 years younger than her brother.

“We had had it with Brooklyn,” said Josie. “We wanted to move somewhere with a warmer climate like in Sicily.”

Taking a California map, Mario closed his eyes and took a pencil and pointed at the map. It landed on Fresno. A stone mason by trade, Mario worked as a sub-contractor on the Bethard Square shopping center. He called Sal in New York and told him there was a new building that would be a perfect place for him to open a bakery. He told Sal he needed to open a bakery not in Fresno, but in a small town. Perlongo’s Bakery opened in Madera in 1968.

Rising early to make the baked goods sold at the store, Sal worked until early afternoon. He spent his free-time puttering around in his backyard tending his fruit trees and growing vegetables at his home on Hilton. He raised tomatoes, eggplant and Cucuzza, an Italian squash, said Mary.

Another two of his passions were singing and fishing. In 1985, Sal earned a world record for catching a 55-pound striper fish from the San Luis Reservoir.

He and the late Jerry Venturi made quite a duo with Venturi on his accordion and Sal on vocals, said Mary.

“My father was the genuine deal,” said Mary. “He treated a bum on the street the same as he would the President of the United States.”

He was proud to be an American. When the national anthem would play, he would cry, said Mary. He was a wonderful singer. On a good day he could be heard singing from the back of the bakery, she said.

The walls and the windows of the bakery were often covered with thank you letters and posters from school children who enjoyed taking tours of the bakery. Every child who came into the store was given their favorite cookie. He would remember their name and what kind of cookie they preferred. “He gave away thousands of cookies through the years,” said Mary.

Youngest daughter, Vivian Young, has different memories of her father, who was 42 the year she was born.

Each of our children has different memories of their father, said Josie.

Their son, born just 10 months after their wedding, had the young dad. Dianna had the working dad, as in “sshh, be quiet, Daddy is sleeping, because he went to work at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning,” said Mary.

“My dad had a really good sense of humor,” said daughter, Vivian Young. “He loved his family very much.”

When Vivian was 12, her father needed surgery for an aneurism. Watching the nurses take care of her father and their other patients chose her career path as a nurse practitioner, said her mother. On Tuesdays, when Sal went fishing, he would leave a note to his Little Baker, signed the Big Baker. In turn Vivian would write an answer on the note before going to school.

After coming to Madera, Sal joined a variety of service clubs and civic organizations. Through the years he served as president of the Italo-American Club, Sons of Italy, Italian Catholic Federation, the St. Joachim Church Young Men’s Institute and the Madera Elks Lodge. He served as the Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler during the Bi-Centennial in 1976, according to newspaper clippings in the family scrapbook.

In 1985, Sal considered taking an early retirement when a fire broke out at the neighboring hair salon.

“There were no fire walls or sprinkler systems then,” said Mary.

It took about a year, but the bakery reopened and continued until they sold the business in 1996. Perlongo died on Dec. 30, 2005, at the age of 76.

The Perlongo family are honored that more than 20 years after the family sold its business many people still fondly remember the baked goods sold for almost 30 years.

Surviving members of the Sal Perlongo family include his wife Josie, brother, Mario Perlongo, sister, Rose Lomascola, son Tony and wife Kathy and their children Kassandra and Christina Perlongo, daughter Diana and husband Robert and their children Dylan and Haylee Curtis and grandson Luke Melkonian, daughter Mary Perlongo and daughter Vivian and husband Todd and daughters Allison and Torie Young.

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