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Builder dreamed big, inspired others by example

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 12:24 a.m.

William Marra opened his grocery Amarraca, three times the size of the standard store in 1984, with 15 departments that included making gelato and bread from scratch. He gave customers incentive cards they could redeem, mostly for smoked hams.

“He always thought grocery shopping should be more interesting, more enjoyable, offer more variety at another level of quality,” said his wife, Debera Marra of Sewickley. “He thought he could reinvent the grocery industry.”

William D. Marra of Sewickley and Naples, Fla., died Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, of emphysema in Avow Hospice in Naples. He was 78.

He was born Feb. 12, 1934, to Daniel and Aida Marra in Oakmont. His father was an inventor who founded a company that made torch tips for cutting steel.

Mr. Marra graduated from Westview High School, where he played drums in the school band. He married his high school sweetheart, the late Marjorie Ann Wurdack, and drove a tank in the Army at Fort Knox, Ky.

Upon his discharge at 22, he became a carpenter and began building homes. Then he built eight apartment buildings, nicely appointed and landscaped, and started Wilmar Properties to manage them.

Family members considered him a visionary.

“He said, ‘Dream big. It doesn't cost any more.' He was a big risk taker,” said his son, Marty Marra of Forest Hills.

Mr. Marra met his second wife, the former Debera Kramer, when he began selling the apartment buildings to make way for condos. When she lost her apartment to a condo buyer, she went to see him, and he helped her find another unit. They began dating and were married five years later.

A delivery boy in a grocery store in his first job, Mr. Marra decided to tackle supermarkets. He built the store in Ross — then the largest supermarket in the state, his son said — and started an early grocery rewards card. Maybe too novel for the times, the store went bankrupt and closed in 2000.

Later in life, Mr. Marra collected antique and classic cars, such as a 1931 Model A Ford. But for the most part, he was a workaholic.

“His idea of a family outing on a Sunday afternoon was to drive around and look at new housing developments being built,” Marty Marra said.

In addition to Mr. Marra's first wife, Marjorie, a son, Donald, preceded him in death. In addition to his son Marty, survivors include sons Dean of Pine and Edward of Cranberry; daughters Donna Marra of Avalon and Renee Bosmans of Kernville, Calif.; brothers Daniel of East Liverpool, Ohio, James of Carlisle in Cumberland County and John of Bellevue; sister Ruth Walker of St. Davids in Delaware County; and nine grandchildren.

Friends will be welcomed from 2 to 5 and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in T.B. Devlin Funeral Home, 806 Perry Highway, Ross. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in Hiland Presbyterian Church, followed by entombment in Sewickley Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the Salvation Army, P.O. Box 236, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230-0236, or Avow Hospice, 1095 Whippoorwill Lane, Naples, FL, 34105.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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