On Saturday, the City of Perris stopped to recognize and celebrate one of its founding African American families during its annual Fred T. Perris Day. What better prelude to Black History Month than to honor the legacy of Prentice G. and Ora Lee Rabb.
Five generations of Rabbs, surrounded by friends, other members of the community, and city and county officials, gathered at the Perris Valley Historical Museum in downtown Perris and bore witness to the honor.
Fred T. Perris Day is named for Frederick Thomas Perris, who once served as the chief engineer of the Southern California Railroad and is also credited with mapping the streets of what would become the downtown section of the city.
Local historian Katie Keyes, who facilitated Saturday’s celebration, noted that the annual Fred T. Perris Day event provides an opportunity for city officials and the community-at-large to honor those people and families who have made significant contributions to the City of Perris.
When speaking about the selection of this year’s honorees, Keyes said, “The Rabb family has been an important part of the Perris community for nearly 80 years and we are pleased to celebrate that history.”
Keyes has stressed how important it is to not only remember one’s history but also to acknowledge the marks left by those who came before us. Saturday’s celebration accomplished that goal.
One of the most recognizable Rabb decedents is one of Perris’ own council members, Councilman David Starr Rabb, who proudly acknowledged what an honor it was for his family to be a part of Perris for such a long time.
The Rabb family’s roots in Perris can be traced to Prentice G. and Ora Lee Rabb. The family’s patriarch, Prentice, was born to Bennie and Josephine Rabb in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, in 1901 and married Ora Lee Currie in the 1920s.
Like most families who came west at the turn of the century in pursuit of a better life, Prentice and Ora Lee Rabb made their way to California in 1939. The couple first settled in the Imperial Valley, but, within a year, moved their growing family to Perris.
The ten Rabb children who settled with their parents in Perris included Zepolia, Lee Cora, Prentice, Carrie Lee, Bennie, Josephine, Glennis, Paul, Magdalene, and Jessie. The Rabb’s youngest child, David (father of Councilman David Starr Rabb), was born in 1941. He is the only surviving child of Prentice and Ora Lee. David resides in the City of Perris today.
In those years, Prentice provided for his family by working in the potato and onion fields. However, the family’s story would not be complete without noting its deep connection and strong ties to the First Baptist Church of Perris, where Prentice served as its assistant pastor beginning in 1942.
Councilman Rabb told The Voice what an honor it was for his family to be recognized in this way. “It’s so good to see so many family members here today. It’s almost like a family reunion.” He also shared how much the city has experienced growth and positive change in the many years since his grandparents settled in the area. When the Rabbs arrived in Perris, according to the councilman, “The community had a population of about 1,200 residents. Today, there are nearly 75,000.”
During Saturday’s event, Councilman Rabb paid tribute to each of the original Rabb settlers, calling each by name and sharing intimate, often humorous, family memories about each. He brought them to life in the minds and hearts of those in attendance.
Other members of the Rabb family, some of whom traveled far and wide to participate in the day’s event, also shared memories and song, including David Rabb Sr., whose soft spoken and gracious acceptance of the proclamations bestowed on his family was reflective. He honored his parents, acknowledged his siblings with reverence, thanked the community, and spoke of his pride in the accomplishments of his own sons and the promise of his grandchildren.
Surrounding Councilman Rabb in support of the day’s celebration were fellow Perris City Councilmembers Tonya Burke, Rita Rogers, and Malcolm Corona. Each concurred in the recognition of the Rabb family and expressed their particular pride in the fact that this year, the family of one of their peers was being honored. Also, in attendance at Saturday’s event to honor the Rabb family were Mrs. Perris Vivian Rey and Mrs. Menifee Anita Jimenez.
The city presented the family with a proclamation that declared, in part, “The Rabb family has been a big part of the Perris community and continues to be represented by several generations. Coming from humble beginnings, they have left a legacy in Perris of devoted and hardworking family members.”
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors also presented the Rabb family with a proclamation. “Whereas the youngest child of Prentice and Ora Lee, David Rabb, Sr. is still living in Perris and is their only surviving child. David’s son, David Starr Rabb was elected to the Perris City Council in 2014; and whereas the Rabb family has been a big part of the Perris community for many years and continues to be represented by several generations. Coming from humble beginnings, they have left their legacy in Perris of devoted and hard-working family members.”
David Rabb Sr. shared, “This day really means a lot to me, because it all started with my father coming to California.” He added in his soft-spoken style with pride and humility, “It is such an honor for our family to be honored.”
Rabb also noted that just as many descendants of Prentice G. and Ora Lee Rabb remain deeply rooted in the City of Perris; many have carried the seeds of this proud Perris pioneer family to places across the nation.