Mayor Anthony Calderone had it right when he described the death last week of Sal Ferrara as the passing “of an era which history will fondly remember.” Ferrara and his family, said Calderone, were “the epitome of civic responsibility, generosity and pride.”
We’ll second that and add that Sal Ferrara, who died of esophageal cancer at the too-early age of 63, was a larger than life, warm and volatile, Blackhawk loving, Forest Park proud, entrepreneurial soul. The mayor is right, we won’t see his like again.
Sal Ferrara was the leader of the final generation of family to own, operate and enormously grow Forest Park-based Ferrara Pan Candy Co. The company is a bit more than a century old and Sal Ferrara ran the family business for some 40 years, always based on Harrison Street, always an extraordinarily generous benefactor to Forest Park non-profits, always a major employer and property taxpayer, always filling the air with the scent of Lemonheads or Boston Baked Beans, Red Hots or Atomic Fireballs.
Ferrara is remembered within the candy business as an “icon” who played a strong leadership role in an industry long battling government regulation of its principal commodity – sugar – and the financial pressure those regulations brought to move manufacturing out of the United States. Ferrara, not surprisingly, is also legendary in that industry for his lavish parties tossed for hundreds of guests when candymakers gathered in Chicago.
Just two years ago, following the death of patriarch Nello Ferrara, Sal Ferrara engineered a merger of Ferrara Pan with another confectionary firm. That deal was fueled with funds from a private equity firm and when he left the merged company last April, Ferrara told the Review that the merger represented a “difference of cultures and it was time to move on.”
In town, Sal Ferrara is remembered for his extraordinary generosity for a whole range of organizations and charities. In her reporting, Jean Lotus turned up the park district, St. Bernardine’s, the chamber of commerce, Little League, the All School Picnic and the police and fire departments as regular recipients of Ferrara’s belief in investing in this village. We’re sure there were many others, too.
“Anytime we needed something or asked for help for anything, he was always there. One of the kindest people you ever met.” That’s how Larry Piekarz, executive director of the park district saw Ferrara. The chamber’s Laurie Kokenes acknowledged that Ferrara was the group’s largest donor for as long as she can remember.
And so the losses that Forest Park feels with the death of Sal Ferrara are many and layered. A generous benefactor. A prosperous business owner. A good friend. A legendary personality.
What happens next to the plant on Harrison Street without a family connection? How are charitable donations made up? There will be time to sort out such worries. Today it is enough to remember Tony Calderone’s words. An era has passed in Forest Park. And our town is diminished by it.