Angelo D'Anna, Mars markets president

January 16, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Angelo D'Anna, called "Mr. Mars" for the 12-store, family-owned grocery chain he built in the Baltimore area, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 71.

Mr. D'Anna was president of Mars Supermarkets. The private, family-operated business began in 1946 with a grocery store on Holabird Avenue in Dundalk, site of the company's headquarters.

The stores were named for a seaplane -- the Mars Flying Boat -- manufactured at the Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River during World War II.

"I've been called 'Mr. Mars' so many times," Mr. D'Anna said in a 1993 interview, "it seems natural just to respond without correcting anyone."

Wearing a red flower in his lapel, he personally opened new stores. He directed the company's growth, saw to store designs and preferred area vendors to large outside suppliers.

"Angelo was without a doubt the heart and soul of that company," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a regional trade publication in Columbia. "Angelo built stores his way. [He was] very responsive to the community."

Mr. Metzger said that though Mars stores typically lack the pizazz of new and other large stores, they retain a neighborhood atmosphere.

"In a sense, it was somewhat of a throwback to the local grocer. And he was able to sort of extend that, the local grocery extending into thefield of supermarkets," Mr. Metzger said. "The people who shopped at Mars felt it to be a comfortable shopping experience. Mr. D'Anna always felt his niche had to be pricing."

"It was not unusual for Angelo to work around the clock, 24 hours a day, especially when new equipment was being installed," said his brother, Carmen V. D'Anna, who is moving from executive vice president to the top position at Mars.

Mr. D'Anna was family-oriented, keeping photos of his parents in his office and closing Mars stores Thanksgiving even as other supermarkets stayed open.

As much as he was identified with his stores, his name became synonymous with the Dundalk community and charitable works.

"The thing people in the community would call him is, the 'patron saint of Dundalk,' " said Thomas P. Toporovich, retired secretary of the Baltimore County Council. "He didn't know how to say no to any organization."

For more than 40 years, Mr. D'Anna was "not only a faithful supporter but a major supporter" of Dundalk's annual July Fourth celebrations. "Anything and everything we needed for the fair, he was there," Mr. Toporovich said.

Mr. D'Anna was a tireless fund-raiser for many organizations, among them Mercy Medical Center and the Breakfast Optimist Club.

He was named Dundalk's Citizen of the Year by the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce in 1982 and received the Golden Lion Award from the Dundalk Lodge of the Sons of Italy in 1993. He was a director of the Patapsco Federal Savings and Loan Association and Boys' Latin School, and a member of the Judicial Nominating Committee for the 3rd Judicial Circuit.

Born in Baltimore in 1924, Mr. D'Anna was the seventh of nine children of Vincent Frettita D'Anna and Marguerite Gloriosa D'Anna. His father had a produce stand in Lexington Market and later became a wholesaler known as the "Tomato King of Maryland."

Mr. D'Anna graduated in 1941 from Calvert Hall, and in 1943 entered the Army and served with the 17th Airborne Division. On D-Day, he jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division in an inland diversionary move. He received a Purple Heart and several campaign ribbons.

After his discharge in 1946, he returned home and, with his brother Carmen, joined their brother Joseph I. D'Anna's one-store supermarket company in Dundalk. Joseph later left the business, and their brother Anthony S. D'Anna joined it.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues in Towson.

Surviving, in addition to his three brothers, are his wife of 48 years, the former Helen Knight; two daughters, Angela D. Miller and Tina D. Hanlon; two sons, Michael A. and Marc A. D'Anna; and a sister, Concetta T. D'Anna, all of Baltimore; and nine grandchildren.

The family suggested donations to the heart center at Mercy Medical Center, 301 St. Paul Place, Baltimore 21202.

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