As Arizona’s centennial nears its completion, one Valley family reflects on its Arizona heritage ― a history that began even before Arizona became a state in 1912. From building a barbershop and tap dancing at Orpheum Theater, to launching Northern Arizona State University’s campus police department and walking the runway of Phoenix Fashion Week, the LaBarbera/Sullivan family has made quite an impression on the state.
In the 1900s, the Arizona territory’s dry climate and warm weather tempted Chuck and Kelley LaBarbera’s ancestors to venture into the desert; and after Chuck’s grandfather, Walter, was born in Bisbee, Ariz. in 1907, the family’s roots stayed firmly planted.
“It’s kind of funny because our paths crossed our entire lives, my husband and I,” recalls Kelley LaBarbera. “We didn’t meet until we were in college working at the same restaurant, but we were both baptized by the same priest when we were babies ― and just kind of crazy things like that.”
Chuck and Kelley’s families also crossed paths prior to the two meeting.
Chuck’s grandfather, Charlie LaBarbera, built a small, red-brick barbershop on 24th St. that Kelley’s grandfather, Tom Sullivan, frequented while growing up. Chuck’s father, Thomas, was a Phoenix grade-school teacher who taught Kelley’s two uncles. And since then, Chuck and Kelley’s families have had a unique impact on Arizona’s history.
LaBarbera’s history, as told via photographs
(Top row, L to R): 1. Pete Sullivan, Kelley’s uncle, was appointed Phoenix’s first full-time fire chief by Marshall Mullians. 2. Nico’s grandmother, Carol Sullivan, is on a 1958 cover of Arizona Days & Way magazine. 3. Kelley’s grandfather, Tom Sullivan Jr., was part of Brophy Prep High School’s first class and became deeply involved in Arizona’s political scene as Maricopa County’s first county manager. After leaving that job, he began his own lobbying firm.
(Bottow row, L to R): 1. Jim Conway, Nico’s grandfather, began Northern Arizona State University’s campus police department. 2. Kelley’s son, Nico LaBarbera, 19, a fourth generation Arizonan, is a runway model at Phoenix Fashion Week.
Meet Nico, Phoenix Fashion Week Model
Nico was one of 10 men chosen out of 200 to serve as a runway model for Phoenix Fashion Week, but he’s already making a name for himself.
He participated in an emerging designers runway show at Talking Stick Resort and won Smart Water’s “Lifestyle” print media challenge.
“He would love to see where [modeling] takes him, but he goes to school and works, and this is one of those things that came about expectedly,” Kelley says. “He loves what’s happening and would like to look see what other options he maybe can pursue in that direction, but he knows also how important it is to continue to go to school.”