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Rosemary Florence Ferraro, after 92 years of a full and rich earthly existence, traveled to be with her heavenly Father on July 26, 2012. She was born on September 7, 1919 in Terre Haute, Indiana to Robert C. and Edna Winningham. She was the eldest child of the three Winningham children-Celia and Robert, Jr. were her younger siblings.
Her family relocated to Southern California and Rosemary attended elementary and high school in the City of Bell. At Bell High School, she met the “love of her life,” Nat Ferraro and they were married in October of 1938. Also, in 1938, Rosemary received her diploma from the Jean Carol School of Costume Designing. She worked as a seamstress, oftentimes designing and sewing many fine articles of clothing while Nat “brought home the bread” as an employee of Helms Bakery. They began their family with the birth of a son, Kenneth, and soon to follow were Stephen, and Cheryl. One of Rosemary’s many stories includes the memory of having her three small children in separate cribs in one bedroom. They were thirteen months apart in age. Their youngest son, Michael, was born after the family moved to Downey. In Downey, Nat and Rosemary built several homes. Rosemary loved to design the homes and Nat would contract the work. One day, Rosemary saw an advertisement about the juke box business. Subsequently, she and Nat launched their new career with Rosemary taking the children to select the records for the Wurlitzers and Nat and his sons servicing the locations. On many nights, Rosemary would be busily typing the music labels for the juke boxes. The business grew from “pop” music to soda pop and other food vending items. This business that began in their garage became known as Downey Vendors which, today, services locations throughout Southern California.
During her children’s school years in Downey, Rosemary became involved with PTA, and the Assistance League of Downey participating as coordinator of the Del Reys, a young men’s auxiliary to the Assistance League. She derived great pleasure in scheduling motivational speakers for the boys from the business, law, political, and sports sectors. She was especially excited when former boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, agreed to speak to the high school young men. Concurrently, she worked with the Boy’s Club sponsored by the Downey Family YMCA. This involvement began a lifelong passion and commitment to the YMCA. In 1989, she received the Metropolitan YMCA’s highest honor with her name inscribed in its Golden Book of Distinguished Service. On the foyer wall of the Downey YMCA, the tribute to Rosemary Ferraro states that in 1974, she chaired the Teams Organization of its multi-million capital expansion campaign. She was elected to the Board of Managers and was chairperson of the New Facility Ground Breaking Committee. She was the originator of the YMCA’s Resource Development Auction and chaired this committee from 1984 to 1990 raising more than $300,000 to benefit the youth of the Downey YMCA community. During this time, Rosemary participated on the Downey Community Hospital Board and acted as chairperson for the Charter Ball, once again, instituting an auction which raised thousands of dollars for our community hospital. Her community involvement extended, also, to leadership positions with the Rio Hondo Boys and Girls Club, and the American Cancer Society.
Rosemary became an involved member of the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge, and developed a passion for the political process. She offered to be the campaign chairperson for a “grassroots” effort to elect her good friend and Downey physician, Robert McLennan, to the California Assembly. The efforts were successful with Dr. McLennan unseating the incumbent. Everyone wanted Rosemary Ferraro on “their team.” She chaired the Republican California Central Committee Campaigns for Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan. One of her biggest thrills was when she and Nat attended a state dinner at the White House in 1976 by special invitation by President Gerald Ford. A letter from Gerald and Betty Ford thanking Rosemary for her vast efforts on his behalf remains with her personal effects. Ronald Reagan extended an invitation to Rosemary to attend his inauguration ceremony in 1981.
As Rosemary and Nat’s son, Stephen, was a thoroughbred horse trainer, they developed a passion for the “Sport of Kings.” They became owners of Cherimoya Stable which owned, bred, and raced thoroughbreds which Stephen trained. In April of 1986, Rosemary was appointed by Governor George Deukmejian to serve as a member of the California Horse Racing Board-the only woman seated on the seven member board. As a member of this board, she worked passionately and collaboratively with the Veterinary Physicians in the Equine Department at UC Davis to eliminate/reduce the drugs administered to racehorses. She was reappointed for another 4 year term in 1990. Rosemary was particularly fond of this position and the people with whom she associated on the California Horseracing Board.
Despite the many hours of commitment to community service, Rosemary always placed her family first. She delighted in preparing family dinners and taking her grandchildren on special shopping trips and excursions. In mid-life, her creativity led her to acquiring her credential in Interior Design, and she loved selecting objects of art and furniture for her children. Christmas Day was always accented by the “second” Christmas at Grandma Rose’s and Papa’s house. Rosemary adored shopping and wrapping gifts to be presented to all her children and spouses and grandchildren-then, would cook a fancy holiday dinner for twenty people!
Rosemary will forever be adored and remembered as a protective, selfless, caring and loving mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. She was preceded in death by her brother, Robert Winningham, Jr., her sister, Celia Chappel, and her dear husband, Nat. She is survived by her four children, Kenneth (Betty), Stephen (Richmond), Cheryl Baker (Robert), and Michael (Susan), twelve grandchildren and fifteen great grandchildren. Three of her grandchildren still reside in Downey-Danielle (Reggie) DeBuhr, Stephen Ferraro, and Michaelann (Vittorio) Gabriele. She is, also, survived by her sister-in-law, Shirley Winningham, three nephews-Greg and Mark Chappel, Robert Winningham, and a niece, Nancy (Winningham) Smith.
Respecting Rosemary’s wishes, a private graveside service was held at Rose Hills on Friday, August 3rd. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made In Memory of Rosemary Ferraro to the Downey Family YMCA at 11531 Downey Avenue; Downey, CA 90241.
Published: August 09, 2012 – Volume 11 – Issue 17