Inventor of Atomic FireBalls, Lemonheads Passes Away

Candy-industry icon Nello Ferraro was 93

FOREST PARK, Ill. -- Nello Ferrara, the chairman of Chicago's Ferrara Pan Candy Co., has died at 93, reported the Chicago Sun-Times.

The company produces treats including Atomic FireBalls, Lemonheads, Red Hots, Black Forest Gummy Bears, Boston Baked Beans and Jawbusters.

Ferrara came up with the idea of spicy-hot Atomic FireBalls in 1954, after serving in Occupied Japan in the post-atom bomb era, his son, company CEO Salvatore Ferrara II, told the newspaper.

Nello's father, the original Salvatore Ferrara--who was from the Rome-Naples region--founded the Forest Park, Ill.-based company in Chicago in 1908, selling the candy-coated almonds known as "confetti" that signify good luck at Italian weddings.

Nello Ferrara joined the family business, where he developed Lemonheads in 1962. He joked that he came up with the idea because his son was born with a head shaped like a lemon.

The company grew to employ an estimated 800 people, said the report. It produces about one million pounds of candy a year at several plants.

"He was an icon in the industry," Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), told the Sun-Times. "He was known for helping out other candy companies in distress, for cementing deals with just a handshake and for being a great ambassador for the industry."

He was well-liked by employees. One even named his son "Nello" after him, Salvatore Ferrara II said.

"He guided Ferrara Pan Candy Co. through good times and bad and helped candy makers of all stripes whenever asked," Patrick J. Huffman of Warrell Corp., a candy contractor, told the newspaper. "Every visit with Nello was filled with laughter and singing."

His lifelong passion was singing, the report added. In fact, after a few duets with Frank Sinatra, he deemed himself the better singer, his son said.

Nello Ferrara helped build Villa Scalabrini nursing home, where the then-Italo-American residents would be treated to shows by stars like Jimmy Durante, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

As a result of the Villa Scalabrini shows, "he sang with Frank Sinatra out in Palm Springs a couple of times," Salvatore Ferrara II said.

Nello Ferrara had a fondness for white shoes, no matter the season. He will be buried in a black Armani suit--and white shoes, the report said.

He is also survived by his daughter Serajean Aliota; his sister, Florence Stillo, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

CSP sends condolences to his family, his friends and his colleagues.