It’s been the dance of a lifetime, and it started… by pulling teeth. He was a handsome young dentist, just opening his practice in Globe. She came through the back door, looking for a job. Dr. Tony Sanchez remembers the exact moment Esther Lara entered his life. The year was 1961.
“I was on a stepladder,” he said. “I looked down and saw this beautiful girl.”
He had already hired an assistant, but the two got to know each other when she took her sister in for dental work, and he visited the drugstore where she worked.
He never asked her out, but the next time he needed a dental assistant, she was hired.
Two years into their office relationship, Esther knew she had to leave. She had fallen in love with the boss, and though Tony cared for her, he was not ready to settle down. Tales of his escapades abounded, from lipstick on his collar to the time he invited three women to the Lions Club picnic.
“I was a little wild,” he said. “I admit that.”
Esther found a new job in Phoenix, and Tony moped because he missed her so much. Returning to Miami a week later, Esther went to the Sunset to hear him play. On a break, Tony approached her table.
He said, “I love you. Don’t ever leave me again.”
He gave her a ring on Christmas Day. On New Year’s Eve, newly engaged, Esther stayed at home with her mother, while Tony played with the Sanchez Brothers band at the Sunset.
An old-fashioned girl, she had decided she ought not to dance with other men anymore. Not sharing her sense of propriety, Tony ended the evening with an old girlfriend. When he confessed this to Esther on New Year’s Day, she took off the engagement ring.
Devastated, she packed up her ironing board and other essentials and set out to create a life on her own.
Driving to Phoenix, Esther passed Tony, who was driving the opposite direction on his way home to Miami. He turned and pursued her until she pulled over. “Let’s elope in Florence,” he suggested. No, Esther said flatly. She continued down the road to Phoenix, and she stayed there for two years.
Fortunately for the sake of their romance story, that wasn’t the end of the road for them. Tony made frequent trips to Phoenix, and they often met at The Island on Seventh Street and Highland, where they discovered the Scorpion (a sweet drink with a gardenia in it) and learned to dance the Pachanga to Ricardo Limas’ three-piece band.
A seemingly insurmountable obstacle to marriage persisted, however. Esther was religious, and Tony was not.
“I wanted to get married through the church,” Esther said, “but every time I mentioned it, he just panicked.”
She wrote goodbye letters that she never sent. She met other men, but they knew as well as Esther, “my heart was always with him.”
Esther joined a social club called “Never on Friday.” She met new people and went out dancing; she made friends with Arizona State University basketball players and became part of the “in crowd.” Cool TV interviewed her about the club, and when Tony saw the interview on TV, he realized Esther was living an exciting life without him.
In 1967, on his way to Las Vegas, Tony decided to ask again. “Come with me,” he said to Esther. “Bring a friend to be a witness. Let’s get married.”
This time, Esther said OK. After telling her mother and his parents, they flew to Las Vegas. With her sister as witness, Esther Lara married Tony Sanchez on May 13. He was 35, and she was 24.
They also had the church wedding Esther always wanted.
On July 1 of the same year, they got married in the Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Church in Miami.
“I wanted my vows and my marriage to be blessed,” she said.
After agreeing to the church wedding, Tony began to experience God in his life with Esther. They read from the Bible together – a daily practice that continues to this day – and it helped them through the rough times.
“She was very patient with me,” Tony said of those early days in courtship and marriage.
“I chased him for five years before I let him catch me,” Esther said, laughing.
Soon after their Las Vegas wedding, Esther left her job in Phoenix to become a full-time wife and, soon, a mother.
“I always dreamed that I would be inside ironing his white shirts and he’d be painting the little white fence – the picket fence. And the babies,” Esther said. “That is how I pictured marriage.”
Much of her vision became reality: she lived with Tony in a picket-fenced home in Miami, and they had two daughters.
Esther reminisced about being in her garden, her baby by her side. “The little old ladies would come by and ask to look at the baby, because she really was so beautiful.”
“Oh, he looks like the mailman,” they said, in Spanish. And for good reason: Tony’s brother was the mailman.
“No, este la dentista,” she told them.
Marriage to a socially active businessman who played in a band wasn’t always easy. Tony was busy and was gone many evenings with the band and other commitments. He was active with the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. He served in the National Guard, bowled and also served as the mayor of Miami.
Esther stayed home with the girls until the youngest was 3 and then went back to work as Tony’s assistant. Sometimes they’d go to a dance, but their devotion was toward their daughters, Anissa and Antonia.
Tony was very supportive as a husband and father, but not everything was perfect. When problems came up, the two would sit on the couch and talk them out.
“He said, you’re trying to change me,” Esther said, “but there were things that needed to change.”
Tony agreed, recollecting with a grin, “She was always very reasonable… when telling me I was wrong.”
Their daughters both went to college, got married and now live in New Jersey and Gilbert. Dr. and Mrs. Sanchez retired together in 1997. They now have four grandsons and spent the early retirement years devoted to them, traveling weekly to babysit until each was at least 4 years old.
“We enjoyed it,” they both said, “and we did it together.”
With their grandsons growing up, it is just the two of them again.
“I’m focused on joy,” declared Esther, and it showed in her face. They now enjoy hikes, yard work and traveling with their family.
Tony golfs to some acclaim, but he’s no longer in the band, so there’s plenty of time to dance. They do it wherever they can – in the street, at the casino or in the lobby of the Bullion Plaza Museum, where they are both docents.
Last summer, as the church celebrated its 100th anniversary, Esther and Tony Sanchez celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The bishop was there to offer his blessing.
When asked what they meant to each other, Tony went on at length, concluding, “All the stuff she shows me, it’s all beautiful stuff.”
Despite all the stories and life lessons she’s collected, Esther still feels the same as she did when their adventure started. “I just love him,” she said.
To which Tony replied, “She’s still the prettiest lady I’ve ever seen.”