TULARE – Tony Mendonca has seen the fat and the skim of the dairy industry over the last 65 years. Chasing work from dairy to dairy in the industry’s infancy, saving up to own his own dairy while raising a young family, staying alive under increasing pressure from environmentalists, and then teaching his children to weather price decreases and increasing regulations.
You have to love your job in order to dedicate your life to the dairy industry, and that’s what this year’s Dairy Family of the Year has done for generations. The Medonca family will be honored this Friday, June 14 at the International Agri-Center Complex. But the Medonca story doesn’t begin in Tulare, but rather the Azores islands off the coast of Portugal.
Antonio “Tony” Silva Mendonca was the second son born to Jose and Maria Mendonca on July 22, 1934, in Ladeira Grande on the island of Terceira. After years of working and living in the Azores, Tony’s parents decided to move their dozen-member family to the United States. Sponsored by the DeBrum family, they set sail for America on Sept. 2, 1950. After a few stops they arrived in Boston, Mass. where they boarded a train. After three long days they were greeted by Uncle Frank Silva in Hanford. The family was so large that they had to split up and Tony went to live with cousin Tony Mendes in Riverdale. With some of his brothers, they found work on Frank Neves dairy in Kingsburg. Tony went to work for George Rocha in Selma for two years before returning back to work for the Neves dairy.
In 1953, Tony’s father moved the entire family to Tulare where Tony worked with his father and brothers for Manuel Linhares. A year later, at the Tipton Festa, Tony met the love of his life Marjorie “Margie” Parreira. They were married on May 12, 1956. Their family quickly grew and their first child, Shirley, was born in 1957. Their second child, Mary, was born in 1958. During this time, Tony moved from job to job. He left Linhares dairy and went to work for Barcellos’ in Porterville. He then went to work for the Toledo dairy and after a year he left and went to work for Hank Anderson. During this time, two more children were born to Tony and Margie. Their daughter Cathlene was born in 1965 and their first son Anthony in 1966.
Tony loved the cows and farming so much that he got together with brothers John and Ben and started their own dairy, Mendonca Bros., on March 15, 1966. For a year, Tony continued to work for Hank Anderson while helping manage his own dairy. When Mendonca Bros. started a second dairy, Tony left Hank Andersons to run his own dairies full time. The family grew again, adding another daughter named Laurie in 1969. Not long after the brothers decided they wanted to combine the two dairies into one and so they bought land on Road 124 in Tulare to build a new dairy. They began milking cows there in 1971. Tony and Margie had their second son, their sixth child overall, David in 1974.
As the years went by the boys, Anthony and David began helping their dad Tony on the dairy and ranch. They worked feeding and milking the cows, driving tractors, irrigating the fields, they did whatever was needed. In 1996, Tony and Ben made the decision to split Mendonca Bros. Dairy and Tony bought the Mauricio dairy on Avenue 200. On June 2, 1997, Tony S. Mendonca and Sons milked their first cows.
In the midst of all this, Tony’s oldest son Anthony met the love of his life Stacia Mendoza. They would marry in 1990. They had a daughter, Darienne in 1997. Life on the dairy proved to be successful and while debating if they wanted to expand, the dairy next door came up for sale. Tony S. Mendonca and Sons #2 started milking cows on April 1, 2001. David married the love of his life Natalie Sparks a few weeks later. Anthony and Stacia welcomed twin boys Anthony “A.J.” and Ryan a month after. Through the years, David and Natalie added four daughters to their family. Dakota in 2002, Mallory in 2003, Jordan in 2004, and Camryn in 2006.
As Tony got older he began to step back letting the boys make the decisions while he was traveling the world, but still giving his advice and opinion when needed. Anthony and David’s children started helping out with the chores around the dairy and ranch. A.J. and Ryan would wash down the barns, separate and move cows, push in feed and drive the loader. David’s daughters learned quick how to irrigate, spray weeds and operate equipment. All of their children were/are members of 4-H and/or FFA.
Today, Anthony’s daughter Darienne is in her fourth year at Fresno State majoring in Business with an emphasis in real estate and then planning on applying for law school. A.J. and Ryan are seniors at Mission Oak High School. David’s daughters, Dakota a junior, Mallory a sophomore, Jordan a freshman all at Tulare Union High School and Camryn in seventh grade at St. Aloysius Parochial School.
What Tony Mendonca started over six decades ago, is now a third generation family dairy he has handed down to his sons Anthony and David and grand children Darienne, A.J., Ryan, Dakota, Mallory, Jordan and Camryn.
– The Mendonca family contributed all of the information for this article.