As the small crowd waited for his remarks, some wondered whether Nello Ferrara was going to shed a few tears, tell a joke or even do a little dance. Perhaps he would do each.

However he handled the ceremony held in his honor, it would certainly be fitting for the occasion, because that’s just how Ferrara is.

On Saturday, the village of Forest Park and some 30 family members, friends, and employees surprised Ferrara, dedicating a portion of Harrison Street in his name. Ferrara, 88, currently serves as the chief executive and board chairman of the famous Ferrara Pan Candy Company.

His father founded Ferrara Pan in 1908, and Ferrara himself has been instrumental in the company’s success. But it was his generosity that community members came out to pay homage to.

“I think we’re all here because we value our relationship that we have with Nello and Ferrara Pan company,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said. “Nello has set the tone for this company, and this truly is a company that gives.”

Among those in attendance were Calderone, Bellwood’s Mayor Frank Pasquale and Ferrara’s son, Salvatore, who now runs the company on a day to day basis.

The idea of dedicating a portion of Harrison Street to the longtime Forest Park figure was actually introduced by some of the company’s employees, according to Salvatore Ferrara II. Plant Manager John Conversa led the initiative, Sal Ferrara said, and family members pitched in.

The fact that a group of employees arranged this honor speaks to the relationships Nello Ferrara has humbly built with his employees year after year.

“Mr. Ferrara is an outstanding boss,” Tim Murphy, quality control vice president and Ferrara Pan employee since 1981, said. “He is as much a teacher as he is an employer, and he treats each of his employees like they are part of his family.”

This family-like treatment towards employees includes providing lunch every day, giving turkeys and gift certificates to grocery stores during the holiday season, and attending employees’ personal events, like weddings and christenings.

This grateful sentiment is shared by Ferrara’s secretary of 36 years, Isabelle Rinal.

“Nello is a wonderful boss,” Rinal said. “He’s extremely understanding and we work quite well together. We seem to know what the other is always doing. The last 36 years have been fun and enjoyable.”

This high regard for Ferrara’s character is not confined to the workplace. For decades the village has valued Ferrara’s generosity and his presence within the community. Organizations like Forest Park Main Street, the Park District, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, and St. Bernadine’s Parish have all benefited from Ferrara’s presence.

“The Ferrara family and Nello have done quite a bit for Forest Park,” Beverly Thompson, director of the Howard Mohr Community Center, said. “They sponsor many of our village events and have been very generous to different organizations in the village.”

Of course, no group values Ferrara more than his own family, which includes his wife, Marilyn, their three children, grandchildren, and most recently, great-grandchildren.

“He is definitely one of a kind,” granddaughter Lauren Ferrara said. “This dedication shows that the village appreciates what my grandfather has done. It’s not asking for handouts. It’s completely genuine. This is something my grandfather and my family will appreciate and have forever.”

Who is Nello V. Ferrara?

  • Born Nov. 28, 1918 in Chicago
  • Invented two of Ferrara Pan’s most popular candies, the Lemonhead and Atomic Fire Ball
  • Attended St. Ignatius, Loyola University Chicago, and DePaul University Law School
  • Recipient of the State of Israel’s Prime Minister Medal, the Human Relation’s Award from the American Jewish Committee and the Kettle Award as given by Candy Industry magazine
  • Decorated by Pope John XIII in 1963