by: Wes Bower
Dr. Larry Napolitano says just about everyone in Milpitas must know his family's last name.
The Napolitanos moved to the city in 1964, and he said the family name became well known through their restaurant (Chester J's) as well as several children and grandchildren going through the Milpitas Unified School District.
Napolitano has made a name for himself as a dentist in the city, and will be celebrating 25 years in practice Aug. 14 at his office at 454 E. Calaveras Blvd.
He fondly remembers his early years in the city, and admits he wasn't destined to be a dentist.
He said when the family first moved to Milpitas, the city was growing "like crazy, and the schools weren't ready for all the kids" coming to town.
Napolitano attended Curtner, Rose, Randall and Murphy elementary schools, then Rancho Milpitas Middle School, and Ayer High School.
"I wasn't on the college track," he said. "I went to the vocational center and was going to be a mechanic. I had a high school job as one and thought there must be a better way for me to make a living."
Napolitano said while he has a lot of respect for mechanics and the job, he wasn't thrilled about working for someone else.
It was his childhood dentist Richard Cooley, another longtime Milpitas practitioner, who inspired him to enter the field.
"He looked like a happy guy who loved what he was doing," Napolitano said. "He seemed like a fun guy ... seemed to have respect from the community, and I thought he probably made a good living."
So Napoliano changed his career focus his senior year, and when he told Cooley of his decision to become a dentist, he said the senior doctor was thrilled.
Napolitano admitted his academics at the time were not his strong point. He hadn't taken any college preparatory classes.
But he was able to enroll at Evergreen Community College in 1975 as part of the school's inaugural freshman class. He said he's grateful for the opportunity provided him.
"Being as ill-prepared as I was, going to a new college with a new faculty and people who wanted to teach helped me a lot," he said. "I probably would have flopped at a four-year college."
Napolitano met his wife Valerie while attending Evergreen, and the couple married in 1977. He transferred to San Jose State University and graduated with honors with a degree in biochemistry in 1980.
Then he moved on to University of California, San Francisco - School of Dentistry, where he graduated with honors in 1984.
The couple was living in San Francisco but decided to move back to Milpitas to begin their new life.
Fortunately, by the time Napolitano graduated from University of California, San Francisco, Milpitas dentist Dennis Jones decided it was time to pack up and move to Yosemite.
Jones practiced with Napolitano's childhood dentist Cooley, who offered his former patient the vacant space.
The rest, they say, is history.
Since that time Napolitano has been active in many community organizations in activities outside his office.
He's currently the chair for the county peer review committee for dentists, and he and his wife have co-sponsored events like Relay For Life and Milpitas Food Pantry's food drives.
They have also sponsored Milpitas Little League and local soccer organizations.
He's also a member of the Spring Valley Volunteer Fire Department, as well as a member of its board of directors. He was recently named a lieutenant in the department.
He is proud of many things, including being married 32 years, having a son and soon-to-be granddaughter, and being respected by his peers and patients in the community.
But he said what he's most proud of is being in practice 25 years, and hiring and retaining great people to work with.
"It's a very rewarding profession because of the relationships you develop and because of the work you do," he said. "When I look at the people I've met over the years, I'm proud to work with the staff I have, and I'm proud of the work I've done to keep people healthy."
Napolitano said when he reached his 20th anniversary he began planning his next 20 years in business. He said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
"I hope to practice a long time and I hope to be good at it a long time," he said. "Retirement is not even a thought yet. I like what I do and where I am.
"We really take good care of people and do what's right for individuals," he added. "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing."
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