Nello Ferrara dies at 93; candy company executive

Candy company executive Nello Ferrara liked to say that he came up with the idea for Lemonheads in 1962 because his newborn son’s head was shaped like the yellow fruit.

Ferrara, whose firm also brought the world such popular candies as Atomic Fire Balls, Red Hots and Baked Beans, died Feb. 3 at his home in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, said his son, Salvatore Ferrara. He was 93.

Ferrara Pan Candy Co., the Chicago-based company that he ran for decades, was founded in 1908 by his Italian immigrant father to sell the candy-coated almonds that signify good luck at Italian weddings.

Trained as a lawyer, Ferrara moved into the candy business in the 1950s. Today, the company says it produces 1 million pounds of candy a day.

He came up with the idea for flaming hot Atomic Fire Balls after serving in the military during World War II, Salvatore Ferrara, the company’s current president, told the Chicago Sun-Times.


The birth of Ferrara’s son was often cited as the inspiration for Lemonheads.

“He always claimed that when I was born, that I came out of my mother sideways,” his son said, “and my head was shaped like a lemon.”

Born in 1918 in Illinois to Salvatore and Sarah Ferrara, Nello V. Ferrara graduated from Loyola University Chicago and earned a law degree from DePaul University in 1942. He soon joined the Army.

From 1942 to 1946, he was a member of the Counterintelligence Corps and did pretrial work on the Army war crimes tribunal in Japan, according to the Candy Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1974.

Ferrara also loved to sing, and did so every day — especially when the family dined out, his son said. His repertoire included Italian love songs and his favorite, “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

When he was 82, Ferrara credited his energy to candy and said: “I eat an Atomic Fire Ball every day.”

Besides his son, Ferrara is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 63 years; two daughters, Serajean and Nella; eight grandchildren; three great-grandchildren, and a sister, Florence.