By JOSH SHANNON
CHESAPEAKE CITY, Md. (AP) — Sitting at her kitchen table, Sophie Ferrara smiles and looks into the camera held by her granddaughter, Diane Scuderi.
“What do you want to tell your friends, Nana?” Scuderi asks.
Ferrara, who lives near Chesapeake City and is just a week away from her 102nd birthday, pauses and begins to speak, her speech deliberate and her voice gentle, with a hint of a New York accent.
“Come along. Bring a crowd. I’d love to see all of you, and I thank you,” she says. “God bless you all.”
The impromptu video message is one of dozens Ferrara has filmed for her 2,824 Facebook friends. Her list of friends keeps growing, and she and her family have set a goal of reaching 5,000 — the maximum number allowed by Facebook — by her birthday Oct. 15.
Better known online as Nana Sophie, Ferrara has become a cult favorite, attracting followers from around the country and throughout the world.
Her friends — most of whom only know her through Facebook — flock to her page several times per week to comment on her postings, ask her questions and share their own stories. Many, like Beverly Walton of Levittown, Pa., have come to think of her as their surrogate grandmother.
“Unfortunately my grandmothers have passed. Nana Sophie has taken over the role, whether she knows it or not,” said Walton, who discovered Ferrara’s page eight months ago through a friend’s Facebook profile. “I check in on her daily and see her hysterical videos where she often mentions her friends on Facebook by name. She is a genuine, sweet, lovable woman.”
For others, her words of wisdom and antics with her great-grandchildren can brighten up a bad day.
“I can be in tears and can go watch her videos and look at her beautiful pictures, and it reminds me what life is about,” said Kelly Ratliff of West Jefferson, Ala. “It is about the moments of happiness, the ones you love and just enjoying each and every minute of life that we are blessed with.”
Ferrara relishes whatever role she plays in her friends’ lives.
“I’m everybody’s Nana,” she said. “What can I do? I’m the people’s Nana.”
Born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y., Ferrara worked as a telephone operator from 1928 to 1943, before quitting to take care of her daughter and other family members. A few years ago, she came to Cecil County to live with Scuderi and her family.
Ferrara quickly became beloved by the Scuderis’ friends and neighbors, and eventually Scuderi started occasionally posting photos of her grandmother on her Facebook page. She immediately got a positive reaction.
“My inbox and comments were so full, I had no choice than to make her her own account,” she said.
Ferrara’s Facebook page went live in time for her 100th birthday.
Her popularity soared this summer after she broke her hip and had to spend 10 weeks in the hospital. Scuderi began shooting short videos of her grandmother addressing her friends, as a way to keep them updated on her condition.
Ferrara’s positive attitude resonated with her followers and many encouraged their friends to also add her as a friend.
Though Scuderi does all the actual updating of Facebook, the thoughts expressed are all her grandmother’s. Ferrara often tells her she wants to “talk to her friends,” at which point Scuderi will either type what she is saying or videotape her.
Scuderi said Ferrara doesn’t necessarily understand how Facebook and the Internet work, but she knows that there are thousands of people following her page.
“Even though I don’t see them, I know they talk about me,” Ferrara said. “I would love to meet them.”
Next week, she’ll get the opportunity to do just that. Her family is throwing a birthday party for her Oct. 15 and has invited all 2,800 of her Facebook friends, though they have no idea how many will actually come.
“We’ve got to live it up,” Ferrara said.
Information from: Cecil Whig of Elkton, Md., http://www.cecilwhig.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)