Sal Ferrara
Salvatore Ferrara II, who passed away Thursday, Nov. 27. He was 63. 

As I had expected, Holy Family Church on the near West Side of Chicago was packed. Temps had started to fall and there were a few flurries fluttering in the air. But given that it was Dec. 1, nothing out of the ordinary for the City of Big Shoulders and, of course, Lemonheads

Bernie Pacyniak

On Monday,  Chicago and the confectionery industry bid adieu to its most famous Lemonhead, Salvatore "Sal" Ferrara II, the former president and ceo of Ferrara Pan Candy Co., chairman of Ferrara Candy Co. and president of Haribo USA. Ferrara had passed away on Thursday, Nov. 27 after battling esophageal cancer. He was 63 years old. 

Having arrived at the church about 20 minutes before the funeral mass was going to start, I soon determined I had better get into the line of attendees wishing to pay their respects to the family. As the line shuffled along, a woman in front of me asked me how I knew Sal.

I was going to say that if you’re in any way involved in the confectionery industry, it would be hard not to know Sal. Not only was he one of the true champions of the industry, but a charismatic and generous individual that could, as Michael Rosenberg, president and ceo of The Promotion in Motion Cos. Inc., and “brother” to Sal, said in his eulogy later that day, “commanded a room like no one else.”

Upon introducing myself and explaining I had interviewed Sal several times during the course of my duties as editor of Candy Industry Magazine, she shared with me that she was his banker. Although I didn’t get her name, she did manage to tell me the anecdote of how Nello Ferrara, Sal’s dad, got the inspiration for the company’s iconic Lemonhead candies.

“Sal told me that when he was born, his father remarked that his head was shaped like a lemon. And that’s where the name Lemonheads came from. Of course, Sal was always good at telling stories, so I don’t know if it’s really true,” she told me. As it so happens, the next day the Chicago Sun-Times’ obituary on Sal ran a headline saying he had, indeed, inspired the creation of Lemonheads.

The story added a bit more detail, quoting Alana Ferrara, Sal’s daughter, as to how the doctors had to use forceps during her father’s birth, the reason behind the lemon-shaped head.

Those forceps must have worked wonders beyond extricating him from the womb because the man proved to be not only a savvy businessman but a champion for the industry. As Rosenberg noted, Sal had “more life, laugher, kindness and zest” than any man he knew. His departure from this earth on Thanksgiving Day was symbolic in several ways, particularly for those who were fortunate to know and love him, a blessing in itself, he said.

At the same time, there was another correlation: “Sal was one tough bird,” Rosenberg quipped. Although Sal would admit he wasn’t always right, he was rarely wrong. He was “uninhibited, rash and had a wit” few could match, the close friend added.

“He was also a man of the people, handing out $100 tips,” Rosenberg continued. “You parked his car, you got $100. You hug his coat, you got $100.”

Perhaps generous to a fault, but how can one fault such generosity, which is so often in such short supply these days?

And he liked to have fun. Fun paying for dinners, ordering expensive wines (I believe Silver Oak was one of his favorites) driving his Ferrari, wearing blue suede shoes (he was buried in them) and extending his hospitality to whomever he encountered, even editors.

So I personally say good-bye to a man who always treated me with respect, recognizing that as a reporter, writer and editor I had a job to do. He always responded to my e-mails and phone calls as well as offered me medical advice regarding my bad knees. (I eventually did have my knee and hip replaced.)

Although I was never part of his inner circle, he never treated me like I was less than that. I will miss what he gave to this industry, to Chicago and to the world at large, essentially himself. It takes a special kind of person to exude such a “life force.”

To his family, my deepest condolences. To the confectionery industry, fondest memories. To all of us, a reminder to live life to the fullest. 

Read more: Sal Ferrara passes away at 63

Read more: Nello Ferrara dies at 93