By Adam Altobella
When others flip through her family’s photo albums, they see a variety of faces that seem to be unrelated. However, when she sees these photos, she recognizes the hard work, hope, and dedication that have led to her existence and values.
Although people frequently look upon their ancestors as family members that are lost in history, or don’t even recognize them at all, this is not the case for one of Delta’s most experienced staff members.
“It’s a mixture of everything,” she said. “It’s a melting pot here.”
Many Americans believe that they come from a long, diverse lineage that can be traced back to ethnic groups across the globe, but this is often a false notion. According to the United States Census Bureau’s most recent statistics following the 2010 census, 72.4 percent of Americans are listed as people of strictly European descent. In other words, only 27.6 percent of American citizens can truthfully identify themselves as people with a worldwide ancestry.
Spanish teacher Melba Fox is a member of this unrecognized minority. Although Fox was born in Canton, Ohio, a mid-size town that’s only notable due to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, her family’s history is much more unique than most people, even students whom she knows well, may realize.
The unique nature of Fox’s family history begins with her Dominican parents: her father Lorenzo Eli and her mother and namesake Melba Fernandez. Although her Hispanic heritage alone is a source of pride, and makes her a bit of a rarity in Indiana, there is much more to her family’s story.
Her mother, Melba Fernandez, was a woman of Spanish descent, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Although Fox is proud to have a bloodline that runs back to Spain, or España as she might say, her mother’s story pales in comparison to the uncommon story of her father’s ancestors.
Lorenzo’s family history is analogous to the streets of New York City, where you encounter a variety of people from every corner of the globe who coexist in harmony with one another.
Her father’s family tree begins with Fox’s great-grandfather, an adventurous Chinese man who decided to emigrate to England in search of work. Fox’s great-grandfather entered England with the last name of “Elie,” but in an attempt to assimilate to the British culture, he dropped the final “e” from his name. Of course, he was left with “Eli” as his last name, which would be the family name for decades to come.
During his years in England, he married an English woman and had children, one of whom was Fox’s grandfather.
Following his birth, her grandfather lived his adolescent years with his siblings in the United Kingdom, and as a young man he found employment at an international telecommunications company.
This rather ordinary job turned out to be a life-altering career for him, as it forced him to move to the Dominican Republic. In addition to his move to the Caribbean, several of his siblings settled in other island nations such as Trinidad and Tobago, resulting in Fox having Trinidadian aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Much like her great-grandfather did in England, her grandfather settled down in the Dominican Republic, where he would court, and eventually marry a Dominican woman. Following their marriage, Fox’s grandparents had a baby boy, Lorenzo Eli.
As previously mentioned, Lorenzo later became Melba’s father, but that was not before he met his future wife, Melba Fernadez.
After their marriage, Lorenzo and Melba Eli began a comfortable life together in the Dominican Republic, with Lorenzo working as a medical doctor. However, Lorenzo soon received the opportunity to pursue his profession in the United States, forcing him and his wife to move to New York City.
In order to entice his wife to make the journey to the United States, Lorenzo promised that he would likely pursue this opportunity for roughly 18 months, then return to the Dominican Republic. Obviously, Lorenzo did not follow through with his promise, as they never permanently returned to their home country.
Although they may have stayed in the United States for decades, they did not remain in one state for a substantial amount of time in their first few years in the country.
After a short stint in New York City that was ultimately put to an end by Fox’s mother’s safety concerns, they moved to Canton, Ohio, where they welcomed a baby girl named Melba Eli (Fox) to the family. Following her birth in Ohio, the family moved yet again to New Castle, Ind., where Fox would spend her childhood.
Although Fox was grateful for the opportunity to have a permanent hometown to grow up in, New Castle in the 1970’s and 1980’s was not the most welcoming town for a Hispanic family.
“Everyone would look at us,” Fox said when thinking about her childhood in New Castle. “There weren’t many [Hispanics] in New Castle, Indiana.”
Although some students may believe that Fox solely spoke Spanish as a child, this is simply not the case, as she has been bilingual for essentially her entire life. However, she preferred her parents, who knew little English, to refrain from speaking Spanish in public in order to avoid curious looks from her fellow New Castle citizens.
“My parents would always speak to us in Spanish, and we would say, ‘Speak to us in English!’,” Fox said.
After growing up in a Hispanic household and experiencing the culture present in Spanish-speaking countries, Fox knew that she wanted to pursue Spanish education.
With her interest in Hispanic culture and extensive knowledge of the Spanish language, she enrolled at Ball State University to study Spanish education. While at Ball State, she befriended a man named Tim Fox who had just finished his Peace Corps duties and was a student in the master’s program. She eventually would marry Tim Fox, to whom she has been married for decades.
Following her graduation from Ball State, she began her 31-year teaching career at Whitko High School in Whitley County in northern Indiana. From there, she would proceed to teach at North Manchester High School, Jay County High School, and now Delta High School.
Fox currently teaches Spanish II, III, and IV classes at Delta.
According to junior Michael Bilby, “She’s a great teacher, and she makes sure that we understand what we are learning.”
In addition to her love of teaching and sharing Hispanic culture, Fox also enjoys sharing her engaging life stories. According to Fox’s students, her stories are synonymous with her classroom, and they never fail to grasp the ears of her pupils.
So in the future, she hopes to continue to share her family’s story with her students, so that they too can receive the ever-important messages of hard work, determination, humility and an utmost dedication to care for those whom you dearly love.