This month we posthumously highlight the distinguished career of a giant in the business world, a trailblazer and legend in the Italian-American community. Nello V. Ferrara passed, after a full and successful life, in early February 2012. Mr. Ferrara was Chairman of the Board of Ferrara Pan Candy Company of Forest Park, which was founded by his father, Salvatore Ferrara, in 1908.
Completing his education in 1942, when he graduated from DePaul University Law School, earning his Doctorate of Juris Prudence, Nello Ferrara subsequently became a member of the Illinois Bar. At that time, there were probably less than 100 lawyers of Italian descent practicing in Illinois.
Nello distinguished himself in World War II, serving his country from 1942 to 1946 in the Counter-Intelligence Corps of the United States Army, assigned to the pre-trial work of the Japanese War Crimes Trials in Japan.
Upon his return from service in the Army, he resumed an active role in the family-owned candy business. His associates and colleagues have long recognized his dedication to the candy world. He has always been an extremely active and enthusiastic member of confectionary trade organizations, devoting many hours to the interests of the industry. In fact, he was a recognized legend in that industry, a true trailblazer.
William Davy, a young promising lawyer and active Justinian Society of Lawyers member, says of his “Poppie” (Grandfather), the entrepreneur, “Much of his success was possible because of the bonds that he created with his employees. He treated them with respect, appreciated their hard work, and made sure that they were well compensated for it. Whether it be a Vice President, or factory worker, he broke bread with them almost every day at the plant in Forest Park. I had lunch with him almost every day for 3 or 4 years while I was working there. That’s where I learned the most from him.”
After serving as Chairman of the 1965 National Confectioners Association Convention in Chicago, he was elected to their Board of Directors, where he served for six years and subsequently served as Vice President. This was followed by two terms as Chairman of the Board of the NCA.
Nello Ferrara’s dedicated efforts and agile, inventive mind yielded miracles in every field of endeavor — business, civic and fraternal — contributing to the success of every project he took on.
Among one of Nello’s most cherished awards is the coveted Knight of Malta, bestowed on him by the late Pope John XXIII. He also cherishes the National Confectioners Association Distinguished Service Award, received in 1970 for outstanding leadership and devotion of time, talent and energies in the development of NCA programs and services on behalf of the confectionery industry. In June 1975, he was honored to receive the annual Kettle Award and named Candy Industry Man of the Year for his dedicated activities on behalf of the confectionery industry, with special emphasis on his achievements as Chairman of the Board of the NCA.
Davy goes on to say about his grandfather: “He was the ultimate role model. He was successful, he was fair, he was honest, he gave credit where credit was due, his integrity was unmatched, but most of all he was fun and people loved him for that. I never met anybody who had a bad word to say about Poppie.”
In 1961, due to his successful efforts in establishing the Villa Scalabrini home for the aged in Northlake, Nello was honored by the President of the Italian Republic and knighted a Cavalier in the Order of Merit of the Republic. His humanitarian efforts and deep interest in the economic development of the State of Israel resulted in his being awarded the Israel Prime Minister’s Medal in June of 1971. In June 1980, he was presented the Human Relations Award by the American Jewish Committee.
Despite his numerous accomplishments, Nello Ferrara remained a humble, unassuming individual, never seeking to be recognized or singled out for praise or honor.
Grandson Bill went on to say, “I was and always will be proud to be his grandson, but not just because of his success in the candy industry. His generosity with his money, his time and his talent, has transformed the lives of so many people. When I meet someone who was a recipient of that open-hearted kindness and they tell me their story, that is when I am most proud to be his grandson.”
It was fitting that only a few months before his passing, Nello V. Ferrara was installed in the elite Executive Hall of Fame at Casa Italia in Stone Park.
Nello and his wife, Marilyn, are parents of three children, namely Serajean Alioto, Salvatore II and Nella Davy. They have eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.