January 7, 1920
January 29, 2002
The story of Lee B. Quilici is a tale of two families; his blood family of Biancos and his adopted family of Quilicis. In short, Lee was born Lidio (LEE-dee-oh) Bianco (bee-ON-koh) in Italy in 1920. His family immigrated to the US in 1922 and settled in the fertile farming area around Merced, California, in the San Joaquin Valley. They worked as sharecroppers on farms owned by others, before finally saving enough money to buy their own farm.
On his 16th birthday, Lee's father told him it was time to quit school to work full-time on the farm. Lee, believing in the value of education, ran away from home. A year later, Lee was accepted into another Italian family, that of Domenick Quilici. Lee was eventually formally adopted by the Quilici family and he legally changed his name from Lidio Bianco to Lee Quilici.
The following pictures and narrative describe Lee's life and a bit of family history for both the Biancos and the Quilicis. Much of this information came from Lee, while some came from other Quilici and Bianco family members. The longer quotes are from an autobiography Lee wrote in 1972. Most of the following pictures had never before been seen by family members until the two weeks before Lee's death. Some of the pictures, along with the very enlightening autobiography, were not discovered until after Lee's death.
The small pictures below are thumbnails. If you click on them, they will expand to full size. If you then click on your browser's Back button, you will return to the story.
|This is the "Certificate of Birth and Baptism" for Silvia Rosa Paniate, Lee's mother. Sylvia was born in the village of Revigliasco, near the bigger town of Asti. Sylvia was born on June 5, 1899, and baptized on June 11, 1899. (The month of June is "guigno" in Italian.)|
|Paniate family circa 1910. Sylvia, Lee's mother, is the young girl on the left. Sylvia's parents were Louis and Madalena. The photo shows two of Sylvia's eventual four brothers - Pasqual (Peter), Alberto, Carlo, and Giuseppe (Joseph).|
picture is of Carlo Paniate, Sylvia's brother and thus one of Lee's uncles.
Carlo, shown in uniform, was killed during the first
The right picture is of Alberto Paniate, Sylvia's youngest brother and thus another one of Lee's uncles. Alberto was born when Sylvia's mother was 52 years old.
Marriage certificate for Lee's parents, Sylvia Rosa Paniate and Giovanni Virginio Bianco, on April 5, 1919.
The first line "L'anno del Signore mille novecento diciannove il cinque del mese di Aprile..." translates to "In the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred nineteen on the fifth of the month of April..."
"Certificate of Birth and Baptism" for Lee, born on January 7, 1920, and baptized on January 19, 1920. (The month of January is "gennaio" in Italian.) He was born in the village of Revigliasco d'Asti, the same village where his mother was born. The "d'Asti" portion of the name indicates the village was near the much larger city of Asti.
Note that Lee was born with the name Lidio Andrea Luigi Bianco. Lee later said, "A good Italian is born with four names, and then drops the middle two." Later documents for Lee simply refer to the name "Lidio Bianco".
|Earliest picture of Lee. In 1920 in Italy, when Lee is only a few months old.|
|Lee at age 2 with his mother Sylvia in Italy in 1922.|
|This is the
document that Lee said allowed
him to leave Italy in 1922 and travel to the USA. The document is titled "Certificato
di Nascita", which is Italian for Certificate of Birth.
How is this different from the document above? Perhaps the earlier document, which commemorates Lee's birth and baptism, was issued by the Church and is sufficient for most people, while this document, which is issued by a civil authority, is required for immigration.
Bianco family in Merced Falls, California. Lee is on the right at age 3.
Lee's brother Charlie wouldn't be born for a couple more years.
Just as Lee had Americanized his Italian name of Lidio, Lee's father also Americanized his name from Giovanni to John.
|Lee's first savings account, at The Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Merced, California. The account was opened with a $5.00 deposit on January 10, 1923, just three days after his third birthday. Perhaps this was the impetus for Lee's penchant for opening small savings accounts for each of his children and grandchildren.|
|Lee with three friends in Merced Falls in 1924. Lee is 4 years old and the shortest one in the photo. Left to right, Bruno Giorotti, Elmer Pace, Lee, Charles Giorotti.|
|Lee and his parents, John & Sylvia Bianco, on a farm in Merced, California, in 1925.|
Bianco, Lee's mother, in 1935, when Lee was 15.
Sylvia died in 1942 of pleurisy, when she was 42 and Lee was away in World War II.
|John Bianco in his typical dress for farming; a button down shirt covered by a cardigan sweater with large buttons, knee-high boots, and a hat.|
From Lee's autobiography -
|The left picture
is of Lee (age
9) with his younger brother Charlie Bianco (age 4).
The right picture of Lee at age 10 on a farm in Snelling, California.
While attending Merced High School, Lee played catcher on the school's baseball team, and began his lifelong love for the game of baseball. Lee was a big husky lad, standing 6 feet tall and towered five inches over his father.
In his sophomore year, Lee turned 16 years old and his father announced that he was then old enough to quit school in order to work full time on the family farm.
When September 1937 came, I was ordered to stay home, and work. There was to be no further coddling of a simple farm boy who already had the strength of a man, and the experience to plow a straight furrow and crank a seeding machine. ... I stuffed my fists in my mouth to keep from crying out in protest over my father's decision. I knew that going to my mother would do no good, for she thought that education beyond the 8th grade was a futile waste of time for a farmer.
That summer, Lee ran away from home with only $1.00 in his pocket, borrowed from his younger brother Charlie. Lee went to the truck stop on the main highway out of Merced and hitchhiked with the first truck heading towards Nevada. Lee's journey ended outside Elko, Nevada.
Next morning the truck driver shook me awake, and we headed out of town. The Nevada State Police stopped the truck a few miles down the road, and asked for identification. I didn't have any, and I was scared to death I would get thrown into jail. I lit out of the truck, and ran for the shelter of a grove of trees on the far side of the road where I hid until the police car was well out of sight and sound. The truck proceeded on its way, minus one scared 16-year-old. I walked back to Elko, and started to look for work.
Lee supported himself for the next six months by doing odd jobs around Elko, typically not for money, but for a meal and a place to sleep. One place he worked was sweeping the floor at Jack Delaney's Gaslight Saloon. Lee spent some time attending Elko High School, but was embarrassed to attend class smelling like a barroom and wearing a set of clothes that was increasingly threadbare.
It wasn't costing me anything to live, and I spent any free time at the library reading about airplanes.
Jack Delaney eventually introduced Lee to a friend of his, Domenick Quilici, who owned a large farm and trucking business north of Elko. Domenick said he was looking for a hardworking handyman who had some mechanical ability to make repairs to his equipment. Lee said that fit him just fine and that began a lifelong relationship.
I didn't ask how much he paid. I would have worked for no money at all,
just to have a warm bed, some food, and a warm jacket. ... [Domenick] put
his hand on my shoulder, and said, "I'll treat you like my own son. But
don't ever let me down, for I won't stand for it." From that day to this,
I have never disappointed him. He is everything in the world to me, and
the only family I have really ever known.
The Domenick Quilici family, around the time that Lee began working for the family, when Lee was about 17. Lee is on the far right. Denyse Quilici, age 16, is in the front left. Kenny Quilici, age 11, is in the front right.
||The left photo is inscribed "Ely, Nev. 1936", when Lee was 16 years old.
The right photo is from 1937.
Lee described his time in the Quilici household as follows.
Such a family it was. We laughed, played, yelled, and worshipped together. These were perhaps the happiest years of my life. And looking back even now, the hours that I have since spent with my adopted family were the meaningful ones that influenced my life. I was treated like one of them, and Dad Quilici scolded and praised me with the same amount of good humor and sternness that he meted out to the others.
|On the back of this photo dated July 1938, Lee wrote, "1938 model ½ ton International 6 cylinder pickup, which I dieselized. As far as I know, was only 6 cylinder International pickup in the county that was dieselized!!" Lee later explained that dieselizing meant installing a second carburetor so that the truck could start on relatively expensive gasoline, and then continue to run using the cheaper diesel fuel.|
|Lee's father, John Bianco, became a Naturalized US Citizen on November 29, 1938. Because Lee was still a minor at the time, Lee automatically became a Naturalized Citizen, too.|
|In a 1945 letter, Lee said, "I worked for Mr. D.E. Quilici. I worked in a general merchandise store and drove a truck. I later managed the truck line." The upper photo shows Lee striking a jaunty pose in his bellbottom pants. The words [US] Mail are visible on the front of the truck, presumably another one of his outfits. The lower photo, dated 6-3-39,shows Lee sitting on top of a truck labeled New Highway Market. On the back Lee wrote, "Just one of my outfits."|
|This photo, dated 11-15-39, has the inscription, "Rear view of my mail rig - Lee", on the back. This mail truck was apparently used on a regular run between Twin Falls, Idaho, and Wells, Nevada. Note the sign on the back of the truck: "Pass Quietly, Driver Sleeping"|
|In 1939, when Lee was 19, he began taking flight lessons in Salt Lake
City. This photo shows Lee on the left and his first flight instructor.
Lee's flight book shows he was allowed to solo after less than 7 hours flight time.
|After leaving home and beginning to live with the Quilicis, Lee did occasionally communicate with his father. This is a one-cent postcard mailed from Wells, Nevada, on November 11, 1939. "Am doing fine. Hope you are all the same. Has been 18º below here already. Lee"|
|Lee sent this one-cent postcard on July 30, 1941, to Mr. & Mrs. John Bianco, Route 1, Box 34, Merced, California. The post card says, "Have been here this afternoon & probably all night repairing a Diesel. Will pull the 750 miles to Twin Falls with 20 ton tomorrow."|
Lee's autobiography relates one fateful day in early 1941, when Domenick Quilici came to see him.
Lee, Mother and I have been discussing you and your future. You are going on 21 now and the way the world is going these days, you will have to go into the service pretty soon. If it would please you, and it would certainly please us, we would like to go into court and have you adopted into our family, to carry our name and to be "Quilici" in every sense of the word. What do you say?
This is the only real home that I have ever known, Mr. Quilici, and I don't feel any love for my own folks, just as they don't care very much about me. I'd like to be considered your son.
Domenick Quilici legally adopted Lee in April 1941. Although the original adoption papers have been lost, the following court document requests a correction to those adoption papers.
After Lee left the Bianco family farm and was taken in by the Quilici family, Lee largely forsook his Bianco roots and considered the Quilicis his true family. While discussing these pictures in the weeks before his death, Lee was asked about John Bianco. "Oh, you mean my father, not my Dad." In 2001, when a doctor asked for his family's medical history, Lee began relating the medical history of his Dad, Domenick Quilici, and his adopted brother Kenny. (Fortunately Lee's daughter Susan was there to ensure the correct family history was given to the doctor.)
In the summer of 2000, Lee was asked to tell a little of his family origins, so in three or four emails, Lee related the following story of how the Quilicis came to the USA from Italy. (Naturally Lee divulged nothing about the Biancos.) Portions of this story were remembered through discussions with Lee's half-brother Kenny Quilici. All of the emails were editted together to form a single narrative.
Kenny nor I could remember what Dad Quilici told us was the first name
of his father, Granddad Q. Remember that most of this info was told to
us in the mid-30s. Dad didn't talk much about his past.
Granddad Q and one of his brothers left the port of Genoa located in
the northwestern part of Italy in 1870. They landed in Boston and traveled,
probably by train, to Chicago. Once in Chicago, Granddad's brother said
he would get off and stay in Chicago since he had been sponsored
by someone in that city. This founded the Chicago branch of the Quilici
family. Granddad Q went on West to the small settlement of Genoa,
Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Carson City, the state capital. All
this, I say again, in 1870.
retired AA pilot friend of mine,
who settled in the Reno-Carson City area, wrote a few Christmases ago
that there was Quilici’s all over the place and asked if they were
relatives of mine. Of course they are, including the recent Mayor of
Dad Q told Kenny and me that shortly after arriving in Genoa, Granddad Q
acquired a horse and cart, a few cows, and a small plot of land on which
to raise a garden. There is a rather short growing season in that area
on account of the cold weather. Granddad made butter and cheese, fresh
milk, garden veggies. Once a week he'd take his products north about 50
miles to the gold fields of Virginia City, home of the Comstock Lode,
where the miners were tired of salt bacon and beans. Granddad made a pot
full of money!!! So in 1886 he headed back to northern Italy, married
his sweetheart Domenica. Dad Q was the first born in 1888.
Incidentally, Dad Q's first name was Domenick, almost like his
mother's name. At age 15 and alone, Dad Q came to the USA to the town of
Wells, Nevada. There he became the first banker and political leader
(Conservative Republican) knowing that this was and is the land of
opportunity. Dad Q was a wonderful man, loved and respected, as attested
to by most of the people in Elko County, Nevada. He and Mom (Martha
Smith, an RN from Montana) married, I think, in 1918.
approximately 1910 and 1918, Dad Q sponsored several brothers from his
home village in Tuscany. Dad Q’s village was Lammari, just on the
outskirts of the city of Lucca, a provincial capital in the Tuscany
region of Italy. The brothers who arrived in Wells, Nevada, were
Carlo/Carl, Josseppe/Joe, Duke, Vittorrio/Vic, Piedro/Pete, Leo, and
Mario; not necessarily in that order.
the 1930s, Leo still lived in Wells. Mario owned the largest general
store in Elko, Nevada, which was passed down to his son
Lorenzo/Lawrence, and later on down to his descendants to this day.
Pietro/Pete settled in Carlin, approximately 40 miles down the Humble
river and down track from Elko, where he worked for the UPS commissary.
Dad Q and I took several loads of fresh vegetables, potatoes, apples,
etc., to the commissary in the 30s.
Duke & Vittorrio went to San Francisco, where Duke's descendants added an extra "L" to our name. I was walking around a town just south of San Francisco and passed a large meat market with the name QUILLICI on the building. I stepped inside, identified myself and asked why the extra "L". They didn't know. “That’s how Grandpa Duke wrote our name.” As for Vic, neither Kenny nor I could think of what happened to him.
After being adopted into the Quilici
family, Lee legally changed his name from Lidio Bianco to Lee Quilici. Note that
as a good Italian, Lee had no need for a middle name.
If Lee changed his name to "Lee Quilici", where did the "B" middle initial come from? When Lee enlisted in the Army Air Corp during World War II, the Army insisted on making some entry in the middle initial portion of the form. If Lee did not provide an initial, he would have forever been known in the military records as "Lee NMI Quilici", where NMI signifies No Middle Initial. So on the spur of the moment, Lee told the Army recruiter his middle initial was "B", presumably to denote his Bianco blood family.
After the military, Lee continued using the B middle initial, but he never once expanded the initial. (The birth certificates of Lee's children list his middle name as Bianco, but this is believed to be the work of Lee's wife Arlene.) For decades after the war, if anyone were to ask Lee the meaning of the B, he would either say that the B had absolutely no meaning at all or very adamantly declare it was none of their business.
By the time Lee reached his 70's, he had grown so
attached to that initial that he would correct anyone who dared omit it.
In one letter to an errant utility company, he wrote, "Who is this Lee Quilici
person you say lives in my house? My name is Lee B. Quilici."
Click for part
two of the Lee B. Quilici webpage