When the Marra family moved to Lakewood in 1967, it wasn’t easy.
Ralph Marra had just been appointed principal of the newly opened Southwestern Middle School and with the help of his wife, Fran, packed up their five sons and left Freeport in the rearview mirror.
“The move from Long Island was not an easy one because they left behind all their family and lifelong friends,” said Jerry Marra, the oldest of Ralph and Fran’s sons. “But they knew Lakewood and Western New York provided a better environment to raise their family.”
As the boys grew, they spent their free time playing pick-up games with the other children in their neighborhood. As the seasons changed, so did their activities. From sledding on Waldemere Way in the winter to riding bikes and swimming in the summer.
However, nothing beat the sound of the crack of a wooden bat on a hot summer’s day.
“Our summers were dominated by the Lakewood Cardinals Little League team, playing for the one and only George Barone,” Jerry said.
Although the boys often preferred spending time playing sports, and excelled at it, it was second compared to their education.
“Education was a big deal in our household,” Jerry said. “(Our parents) made sure our education was a priority, even if we would have rather been doing something else. Dad was an esteemed educator. However, it was Mom who kept close tabs on us and made sure we succeeded in school.”
After five years in the Southwestern Central School District, Ralph was offered the position of Superintendent of the Frewsburg Central School District, a position he held until his retirement in 1987.
“Hard work was just one thing our parents taught us,” Jerry said. “Our dad worked hard at a demanding job as an educator. Our mom worked even harder as a stay-at-home mom to five boys before becoming the assistant director of A Children’s Place (at First Presbyterian Church) in Jamestown.”
Other Marra family lessons included caring for others and respecting everyone, regardless of who they are.
When Ralph passed away in 1996, Fran and their sons decided to honor their family by creating the S. Ralph and Frances P. Marra Scholarship Fund at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.
For over 20 years, this scholarship has provided financial support to high school seniors graduating from Southwestern and Frewsburg Central School Districts who embodied many of the Ralph and Fran’s positive traits; community spirit, good citizenship and volunteerism.
One of dozens of students carrying out the Marra family legacy is 2010 Frewsburg Central School graduate, Caleb Johnson, who credits this scholarship for affording him the opportunity to follow his dreams.
“(This scholarship) was one of the main reasons I was able to study at Houghton College,” Johnson said.
Following the completion of his Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations and affairs, and history, Johnson went on to attend George Mason University. He earned his Master of Arts degree in global affairs, governance and public management, becoming the first in his family to earn a master’s degree.
In April 2016, Johnson was named a project operations consultant with World Bank’s Global Land Geospatial Unit. He has traveled to six different countries helping to improve land administration, which includes upgrading technological capacities, building institutional capacity and ensuring well-informed citizens of the benefits of having registered property.
And although Johnson’s work keeps him away from the Chautauqua region, he continues to support his community and wants the best for those who live here, much like Ralph and Fran.
“It was very important to (our parents) to give back to the community as they were able,” Jerry said. “They wanted to improve the quality of life for everyone in the area and they supported those organizations and programs that made this community better.”
Following Fran’s passing in 2016 at the age of 83, now it is her children and grandchildren who are finding new ways to give back to their community.
In 2017, Jerry, along with his brothers, John, Jim, Tom and Bob, celebrated the completion of Fireman’s Field in Lakewood, an artificially surfaced baseball field they built in memory of their parents.
“(Our parents) were wonderful people and they loved Lakewood with everything they had,” Tom Marra said at the time.
In addition to the sports field, the family also continues to support their parent’s scholarship fund. The Marra Family has also created another scholarship to benefit students from the region attending St. Bonaventure University.
“(All of this) is a way to honor the legacy of our parents and grandparents,” Jerry said. “There is no better way to remember them and pay homage to them than through a college scholarship, since education was so important to them, or with a new baseball field, since it is so emblematic of the role sports played in our family.”
Every gift creates a story. This story was inspired by gifts to the S. Ralph and Frances P. Marra Scholarship Fund.
For 40 years, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation has worked together with its inspiring donors, selfless volunteers and grateful community organizations to share their stories for enriching the quality of life for all who live here.
A gift to the Foundation adds another chapter in our community’s unending story.