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Life Story / Obituary
Our dad, Lancellotto Angelo Ferraro, passed away Saturday, August 1, 2020 from pneumonia and complications of Covid-19. The son of Sicilian immigrants fleeing a hardscrabble existence in the town of Alcamo, he was born in Kalamazoo, August 12, 1921. His family moved to Detroit, where he contracted polio when he was 2. They returned to Kalamazoo and he stayed here the rest of his life. He dropped out of school in ninth grade to take care of his mother who had cancer. Many jobs followed – short order cook at Schensul’s, pin setter at the Corner Bar and finally a job at the Upjohn Company starting at the bottom as a janitor and lab assistant. He was part of the team that developed cortisone.
Lance was involved with the Civic. He loved theater, becoming the Civic photographer and using their small darkroom next to the dressing rooms. He was one of the first members of the Village Players, now the Barn Theater in Augusta, with childhood friend, Jack Ragotzy. He is usually not in photos of that time, except for playing the drunk in the Melodrama Ideal Audience, he was usually behind the camera.
During World War II, he was classified 4F because of his polio, but sang at the USO, helped monitor trains in a Civil Defense unit and dealt with numerous verbal attacks on the street for not being in the Armed Services.
In 1948 he met Charlotte Anna Grant at the Dragon Inn. She had recently graduated from Western Michigan College with a teaching degree in art. They were introduced by friends. He says he first fell in love with her laugh. He was amazed she said yes when he asked her to marry him and that she insisted on becoming a Catholic! They wed on June 18, 1949 at the old Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church on West Kalamazoo Avenue with a reception at the Civic Theater.
Lance and Charlotte moved to Douglas Avenue and started their family – six children in 11 years: Lance J., Sharon, Laura, Kate, Gina and Marc. They moved to Oak Street in the Vine Neighborhood in 1959. They lived in that house in ‘the Vine’ for over 60 years. Lance, with the help of his wife and carpenter father-in-law, set up a photographic studio in the basement. A few years later he purchased 1309 South Westnedge and moved his studio to a storefront. For 35 years he took portraits, covered weddings, took aerial and architectural photos and much more. He was the first independent photographer to take High School portraits in 1975, giving seniors the option outside the school supplied photograph. Hundreds of Seniors had their portraits taken at the “Lance Ferraro Studio”. Almost all the children, along with his nephew Dan, worked at the studio helping as receptionist, film splicer and in the darkroom as well as shooting weddings and portraits.
In the late 60s and early 70s, he developed movie film overnight for high school football teams. (Video tape put an end to that.) For a few years he microfilmed medical records and developed microfilm of cancelled checks for banks (digital imaging replaced that). He served on the board of the Association of Records Managers.
He loved photography. For years he was on the Board of the Professional Photographers of Michigan & served as their president. He was an active member of the Professional Photographers of America.
His love of performing and the stage came out with his involvement with Sing Out Kalamazoo for several years, serving on the board and being the official photographer.
In 1980, a rail bypass was proposed for downtown Kalamazoo that would have cut out almost everything from Edwards Street to the East Michigan Rail viaduct. He worked with Rick Light and architect Nelson Nave, along with other local citizens to fight the plan. They formed the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Urban Development – CCRUD & coordinated several years of dedicated opposition. The cost of the bypass shot from $15M to $50M. Finally, a ruling from the Michigan Supreme court put an end to the plan. The integrity of Kalamazoo’s historic downtown is significantly more intact because of the work of CCRUD.
He became interested in local politics and ran for city commission four times, winning a seat three times. He was involved with the Vine Neighborhood Association for many years & served on the Parks’ Board. For years he & Charlotte served as poll workers for local elections. He loved being in the middle of things and participating in Kalamazoo’s vibrant city life.
As digital photography chipped away at the traditional studio business model, he decided to retire at age 80. The studio was sold and he lived at home with Char. After her cooking for 50 years, he took over most of the cooking – she baked treats, he made dinner. In 2003 he and Char and daughter Kate visited their friend Rick Light in Paris for two weeks – the first overseas trip for both of them. A few years later, in 2007, Kate, the experienced European traveler, took them to Italy with a side trip to visit newly rediscovered family in Alcamo, Sicily. While visiting, a family reunion there found Charlotte and Lance one of seven first cousins still alive in their 80s and 90s. Some remembered Lance’s father & mother! All those cousins have since passed. Lance was the last of that generation on either side of the Atlantic.
In 2007, he told his story to StoryCorps in Bronson Park. Around 2009 he finished his memoir, Chapped Hands and Blackened Heels, telling his story of growing up in Kalamazoo. He gave copies away to friends and family and to the local history room at the Kalamazoo Public Library.
In 2009, a Christmas gift from the family sent Lance back to Sicily with his youngest son Marc and daughter-in-law Amanda. This time they spent 10 days touring the island and getting to know family.
Our mother passed away on March 5, 2015, determined to the end to do things her way.
Together they created our warm home where other kids loved to visit – never a quiet moment. Six kids, many pets and lots of memories. He was still living at home when he passed – in his own home, in his own bed and in his sleep.
We loved him and will miss him every day. In the last few months when he would do something unexplainable, Gina would say to him sternly, "Why did you do that?" And he would cock his head and raise his eyebrows and answer with a questioning smile, "Because I'm old?" Who can argue with that? They’d both laugh and move on. Over and over he stated his gratitude for the care his children gave him and wondered at his unexpectedly long life. He told us he woke up most mornings and chuckled “Still alive!” His aim was to live to 100. He was 11 days shy of 99 but had been claiming he was already 100. We’ll just say he made it into his 100th year.
Lance was predeceased by his mother Giovanna, his father Mariano, his brothers Frank and Baldassare (Bud) and their wives Rose and Shirley respectively and special friend Rick Light. His children Lance J., Sharon Ferraro (Bill Dyer), Laura Ferraro, Kate Ferraro, Gina Chimner (Greg) and Marc Ferraro (Amanda), grandchildren Anthony and Timothy Short (Lacey), Anya Langford (Butch), Camille and Parker Chimner, Grant and Lena Ferraro and eight great grandchildren. Special friends Frank and Toni Gross, Father Mike Hazard, Barb Miller, & many from the St. Joseph Catholic Church congregation, especially Jan and Becky – his angels. And his extraordinary caregiver, Lora Commissaris.
In lieu of flowers please consider donations to Pretty Lake Vacation Camp (he was the oldest living camper), Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic Church on Lake Street, the Vine Neighborhood Association, and Animal Rescue Project. A Life Story celebration will be announced at a later date. Visit Lance’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you may read his Life Story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign his guestbook. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.
Please wear masks when you are away from home – to protect yourselves and everyone else.
Ti vogliamo Papa. Riposa con gli angeli!