Salvatore V. Ferrera, 77, of Oak Park, died on Dec. 7, 2010 after a long struggle with heart failure. Born in Chicago on April 11, 1933, the oldest child of Salvatore and Angela Ferrera, he was an Oak Park resident since 1971 and father of six OPRF High School graduates. At a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Giles Church, his son, Vincent, gave the following tribute on behalf of Sal’s children (edited for space):
Maintaining a warm and inviting home was important to Dad. From our apartments in Hyde Park, to the house on Luella, and, finally, our suburban homestead on Fair Oaks, he made sure his family had all of the comforts. Our homes weren’t just places to live, but gathering points for frequent celebrations. From small parties to blow-out bashes, nobody was more comfortable at the head of a dinner table or playing the master of festivities.
The son of immigrants who themselves had to leave school and go to work after the sixth grade, he earned a Ph.D. from one of the top universities in the world and put all his children through college.
Dad studied engineering at Northwestern. There he joined with other commuting students to form the common man’s fraternity, Lambda Mu. The letters stood for “Lunch Majors.” In college, Dad discovered a subject he liked even better than engineering. That was economics. He won a fellowship for graduate work at the University of Chicago. In 1956, he began his Ph.D. in an economics department that was dominated by Milton Friedman and free market theory. Sal never accepted this self-interested view of the world. He knew economics was not just about the marketplace; it was about the fair distribution of resources to the whole society. Over the years, he continued to develop his knowledge of economics and last year finished writing his own book on economic theory.
His passion for social justice led him to join in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1966, when Dr. Martin Luther King came to Chicago to launch the campaign for fair housing, Dad was in the streets marching, and he served as a board member of the Catholic Interracial Council, consulting with John McDermott on the negotiations that followed the marches.
An outgrowth of the fair housing campaign was the founding of the Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation. In 1970, he became director of this not-for-profit corporation, which built affordable housing for low-income families. MHDC’s most spectacular victory for affordable housing came in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court “open housing” case, MHDC v. Arlington Heights. MHDC successfully fought for and established the principle that municipalities may not use their zoning codes to prevent the development of housing for low- and moderate-income minority persons. This decision continues to have a major impact on fair housing litigation today. Sal headed MHDC for 40 years.
At the age of 15, he discovered what was to become one of the great passions of his life: drum corps. He was a founding member of the Cavaliers. He rose from within the ranks to become the corps’ creative and emotional leader. Under his reign as program director, the “Green Machine” amassed an unprecedented number of first-place finishes, state and national championships. In 1986, Sal was honored with admission to the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame.
What his family saw was a guy who spent hours at the piano, night after night, working on his musical arrangements for the corps. He would play each passage over and over, listening to the original recording until the needle on his stereo gave out. He wasn’t satisfied until he could capture the soul of every piece. He brought joy to millions of fans, and our house was always filled with music.
Through it all, he never stopped being the kid with the cocky grin and the gleam in his eye, handsome and charismatic, fiery and defiant, a born leader. He could stand in front of a group of unruly street kids and command their attention by simply lifting his hands. Intelligent, insightful, questioning, fully engaged in the world around him and always planning his next big project. He stood up to the economics professors whose ideas don’t look so brilliant anymore. He was a rock, a compass, and a guide, a great father to his own children and a teacher and mentor to hundreds of young people.
Dr. Sal Ferrera is survived by his wife, Ellen Dick; his former wife and co-parent, Stephanie Ferrera; his children, Regina (Antonio Foyo), Elizabeth (Michael) Eder, Vincent (Beth Miller), Anthony, Victoria (Kevin Shalla), and Christine; his seven grandchildren, Stephanie and Lauren Eder, Luke, William and Cordelia Shalla, and Katharine and Salvatore Ferrera; his sisters, Connie (George) Schooley, Veronica (Lester) Rieck; his brother, Victor (the late Priscilla); and many nieces, nephews, and cousins.