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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Honor for Ybor matron long overdue

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Published:   |   Updated: December 6, 2013 at 08:19 AM

Even if you're not much for “firsts,” Molly Ferrara has a pretty impressive string.

A group of family, friends and politicians all will be on 16th St. and 7th Ave. in Ybor this afternoon at 2 p.m. to dedicate a plaque to the late alcaldesa of Ybor City. In a town that likes to put statues and plaques up wherever there's some extra space, this one is overdue.

I'd put one up for Ferrara on spirit — which she had in enormous quantities — alone.

She began making her mark in the '50s, when women in business or politics were usually working the secretarial typewriter, especially in male-dominated Tampa and even more so in Ybor City.

I wish I had known this daughter of Sicilian immigrants. Ron Antinori did. Molly was his grandmother. Today, Antinori (whose brother Paul is the former state attorney) lives in Atlanta but will be at the ceremony, and he says you had to understand Ybor's history to better understand Molly, who died in 1979.

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“Most of the Sicilians are from two towns, and when they emigrated to Ybor they all knew each other as well as the traditions they brought with them. My aunt Molly came from a strong family and she was determined to get things done her way.

“If there was a board or organization in Ybor City, Molly was on it.

“She became Ybor's first woman alcaldesa (mayor) and took the honorary post seriously.

“When a delegation went from Tampa to Cuba to meet with then-dictator Fulgencio Batista, the two of them had a conversation, and he said he thought she was trying to get former Tampa Mayor Nick Nuccio's job. She told Batista that it was his job she really wanted.”

Molly may have been Ybor City's greatest booster. She was the Woman of the Year, the Optimist Citizen of the Year, winner of the Sertoma Service to Mankind Award, the Dooley Service to Humanity Award ... if there was plaque to hand out in Tampa or Ybor, she had one.

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One reason may have been the small store she opened next to the old Las Novedades Restaurant. It was an odd mix of appliances and music. But it was also where you could expect credit on a stove when you had no money or maybe even a helping hand when you didn't buy anything at all.

My old buddy Tony Zappone — you might have seen some of the photos he took for us when JFK made that historic trip to Tampa — was a friend of hers.

“I remember going into her store to buy a fridge back in 1978 when I had just bought a house. She took mercy on me and gave me something I couldn't really afford.

“Not only that, when I went out the door, there was a guy standing there selling watches. He wanted to know if I wanted a genuine Bulova for ten bucks.

“Well I needed a watch, so I bought it, took it home and looked closer at the label. It read 'Bolivia'.

“I called Molly to tell her there was this hustler outside her store. She laughed and took another ten dollars off my fridge.”

So that's Molly Ferrara. Through the years we've written about the characters of Ybor and old Tampa and it's not always a pretty picture ... colorful, but maybe not so pretty. Molly Ferrara was what was right with spirit of Ybor, and when you see her memorial down on 16th Street, you will know a little more about a true champion of the people.

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