Nello Ferrara, 93, of River Forest, patriarch and chairman of the board of the Ferrara Pan Candy company died on Feb. 3.
After World War II, Ferrara capitalized on the company’s signature product, “Red Hots” a spicy cinnamon pan candy. He created the legacy Ferrara brands: Atomic Fireballs and Lemonheads. Under his leadership, Ferrara Pan became a candy company of national prominence.
“He was an icon in this industry,” said granddaughter Alana Ferrara. “He was a great man, really incredible. And he sang everywhere he went. His favorite song was ‘Send in the Clowns’.”
Nello Ferrara was born in Chicago, grew up in Chicago’s Taylor Street neighborhood and attended St. Ignatius College Prep High School. He graduated from DePaul Law School in 1942 and immediately joined the U.S. Army in counter-intelligence during World War II. He worked in Tokyo after the war as a Japanese war crimes prosecutor.
Ferrara joined the company, founded by his father Salvatore, in 1947. Salvatore and his brothers-in-law were Italian immigrants who started the business in 1908, making sugar-coated almond “confetti” candies with a special recipe he had brought over from Italy. The candies were made in rotating pans, which usually started with a center, such as a fruit, nut or grain of sugar. Rotating over days and being stirred by a “panner,” the candies gradually increased in size.
Nello focused the company on brand identification, starting with Red Hots, according to a Gale corporate history. Atomic Fireballs were introduced in 1954 and Lemonheads in 1962. The company moved the Ferrara operations to the former Borden Dairy plant in Forest Park in 1959.
He was inducted into the Candy Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1975, he received the Kettle Award from Candy Industry Magazine and was named Man of the Year by the National Confectioners Assn. He remained chairman of the board at Ferrara Pan into his 90s.
He married Marilyn Bies in Jan. 1949 and they remained married for 63 years. “He used to sing ‘Wind Beneath my Wings’ to my grandmother all the time, and he meant it every single time,” said Alana Ferrara. “His family was the light of his life. We had dinner together every Sunday as a family. He’d be standing in front of the stove cooking for his grandchildren and kids, making spaghetti and meatballs with gravy and sausage. Because that’s what he did. He was a phenomenal cook,” she said.
Also important was his Catholic faith. He was made a Knight of Malta in February 1963 by Pope John XXIII, his granddaughter said.
“He was very active (at 93) and he still played cards at the Ridgemoor Country Club in Harwood Heights twice a week.”
Nello was the father of Serajean (the late John) Alioto, Salvatore II (Andrea) and Nella (William) Davy; the grandfather of Marilyn and Joseph Alioto, Nello II, Alana Ferrara and Lauren (Matthew) Houder, Salvatore (Francesca), William Jr. and Nello Davy; great-grandfather of Matthew and Charles Houder, Salvatore Davy (Francesca); the brother of Florence (Adam) Stillo and the late Benita (the late William) Capraro; and the uncle of many nieces and nephews. Visitation will be Tuesday, from 9 a.m. until the time of the funeral Mass, 12:30 p.m., at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd., Chicago. He will be buried privately at Queen of Heaven Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Shrine of Our Lady of Pompei, 1224 W. Lexington St., Chicago 60607 or St. Ignatius College Prep, 1076 W. Roosevelt Rd., 60608.