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DOWNEY – It is tempting to see the hand of fate at work 43 years ago in the marriage of Ken and Betty Ferraro. He was a so-cal boy raised in Downey. She traveled every summer with her family from Arizona to visit an aunt and uncle who lived in Downey.
But if their paths crossed at a local park or popular ice cream store, both of them say they weren’t aware of it. As Betty tells it, “I’m five years younger than he is, and I doubt that he would have noticed me. I still would have been a little girl when he was a young teenager.”
Ken and Betty trained and worked in the same profession – he’s a dentist and she is a dental hygienist. But that wasn’t how they met either. Ken attended the University of Southern California and then went on to dental school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Betty earned a Bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
When Betty finished school, she liked the idea of living in California, but she didn’t move to Downey. No, she moved as close to the Pacific Ocean as she could get, sharing a house with four teachers on Balboa Island in Newport Beach.
The two finally met when Betty was visiting a long-time Downey friend who lived across the street from Ken’s parents. A fortune-teller might say that they were living their destiny. Betty says, “It was love at first sight.” After their wedding, Newport Beach no longer held the same attraction for Betty, and the Ferraros chose to make Downey their home.
When Ken opened his practice on Brookshire Avenue in 1972, Downey gained more than a good dentist. As a couple, the Ferraros are known for their devotion to family and community; and their civic legacy to the city of Downey is written over many years.
In addition to building a successful practice and raising a family, Dr. Kenneth Ferraro and wife Betty each have personal resumes that include honors and recognition for decades of community service. They have assumed the responsibilities of leadership positions while still relishing hands-on involvement; and they continue to be generous with their time even as they enter a stage in life when others start slowing down.
Their commitment to community service follows the example set by Ken’s mother Rosemary, who worked unselfishly for such organizations as the PTA, the Assistance League of Downey, and the Downey Family YMCA.
Betty Ferraro is widely known for her 15 years as an elected member of the Board of Education for the Downey Unified School District. Since her retirement in 2006, Betty now visits the local elementary schools as a puppeteer presenting an anti-gang educational program. She was a charter member of Gangs Out Of Downey (GOOD), and this puppet program was co-produced and funded by GOOD, the Assistance League of Downey, and citizens of Downey. Betty is also still active in the Assistance League.
Since 1972, Dr. Kenneth Ferraro has served the Downey Family YMCA as a member of the Board of Managers, while also participating in the Downey Dental Academy program that provides regular dental screening for local school children. Last year he started a pilot program to fabricate and fit NFL/Collegiate-quality mouth guards for local high school football players.
Ferraro is also an active member of the Downey Kiwanis Los Amigos chapter, attending breakfast meetings once a week before work. He has shortened his work week by one day, but shows little interest in retiring. “He adores his patients,” Betty explains.
In 2005 Ken Ferraro was elected to the Downey High School Hall of Fame, and also received the Kiwanis International HIXSON Service Award. Among her other myriad awards, wife Betty was selected to represent the 56th Assembly District in Sacramento as a “Woman of the Year.” In 2006 the community of Downey honored both husband and wife when they served as parade marshals in the Downey Holiday Lane Parade.
A Family of Dentists
Ken and Betty also have a personal legacy that they would most likely say is more important to them than all of their well-deserved plaques and proclamations – they are a close family, with three children and five grandchildren. Moreover, their two sons, Stephen and Paul, paid their father a special tribute by also choosing to become dentists. For several years, all three Doctors Ferraro practiced in Downey and were featured in the USC Dentistry Magazine.
Daughter Danielle and son Stephen still call Downey home, and their generation continues the family tradition of civic activism.
“I love Downey,” explains Stephen, who now serves with his father on the Downey YMCA Board and assists with the yearly dental screenings at local schools. “I’m lucky to be a product of Downey and I owe my success to my family and this city. I want to remain a part of it.”
Seeking to experience a different part of the country after graduating from Warren High, Stephen went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. It was during this time that he switched from pre-med studies to dentistry, and he returned to California to earn a Doctorate of Dental Surgery at USC. His specialist residency in dental surgery was completed at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and he describes the excitement of Chicago with notable enthusiasm – the city’s history, its politics, its art, its sports. However, like his father, Stephen returned to his hometown.
Dr. Stephen Ferraro now lives in Downey where he has an endodontic practice, and praise for the number of “good, caring, and ethical dentists” that he works with in the community.
Brother Paul stayed in Southern California after high school for a very compelling reason – high school sweetheart Grace Wallace. The two later married after completing their studies.
Paul says that he knew he wanted to be a dentist while he was still a junior at Warren High. As an undergraduate at USC, he studied biology with a minor in dental science – a program that is unique to the school, with a focus on the fine arts aspect of dentistry and classes in carving and sculpting.
As Paul describes an example, homework once included directions to buy a ginger root at the store and bring it to class the next day. With the ginger root as a model, students carved its form in wax or plaster of Paris. The goal of the program, he explains, is to encourage students to pay attention to fine detail and develop hand/eye coordination.
After graduate training at the USC School of Dentistry, Paul practiced for five years as a general dentist along side father Ken in Downey. He describes this time as a significant professional opportunity because “experience is a big factor in diagnosis and treatment and creating a successful patient experience. I benefited in a huge way from working with Dad.”
Paul and Grace eventually moved to Irvine to be closer to where she works as an occupational therapist. Paul opened his own office in Mission Viejo, but the couple and their two children return often to Downey to visit family and friends.
Ken and Betty’s daughter, Danielle, also married her high school sweetheart, Reggie De Buhr. Danielle was as a speech pathologist at Alameda Elementary school until her family grew too big. She now helps husband Reggie with their family business that specializes in the installation of home audio/visual systems.
Her children are the fourth generation of Ferraros in Downey and they attend Gallatin Elementary. Following the example of her mother Betty and grandmother Rosemary, Danielle is a PTA mom and active in the Downey Assistance League.
The Ferraro clan not only works hard, everyone plays hard, with notable enthusiasm for sports and outdoor activities. Stephen likes to challenge himself at the gym, and also enjoys trail running and cycling. “It’s about doing what you can,” he says. Paul enjoys mountain biking and jogging. Father Ken will occasionally join Paul in a bike ride, but is now often engaged in the more age-appropriate activity of golf.
This April the three Ferraro siblings, Stephen, Paul, and Danielle, and Danielle’s husband Reggie will participate in the 200-mile Ragnar Team Relay Race. They will be part of a 12-person team that races day and night along a course starting in Huntington Beach and ending in San Diego.
The route meanders across coastal California, and while one person is running his or her segment of the course, the others follow in the vehicle. Danielle says participants don’t really sleep well in the van, but it is “loads of fun.”
Danielle’s husband Reggie has plans to step things up a notch after this event. He is currently training with Downey School Board member Willie Gutierrez to race in the Iron Man Triathlon. The Ferraro clan and friends are definite “community activists” in more ways than one.
Most often the history of communities is written with numbers and the names of officials in government: What year did a city or county incorporate? Who was elected mayor? How large was the population? What were the major businesses?
The four generations of the Ferraro family in Downey reflect another aspect of the story of community – What social institutions were established? What values were displayed by people in different positions of leadership? Are the values still prevalent among succeeding generations?
The Ferraro clan is just one example of the many families that settled in Downey after World War II and helped to shape the city’s character. The civic engagement and activism of so many families across generations are part of the fabric of a community, and these features continue to mold the quality of life in Downey today.
Published: Feb. 20, 2014 – Volume 12 – Issue 45