Joseph Vincent Tumminello, 96, A&P produce supervisor


Joseph Vincent Tumminello, a produce specialist who opened numerous A&P grocery stores and advocated selling local fruits and vegetables, died Tuesday at his home in Arnold. He was 96.

Mr. Tumminello worked in the food industry at a time when transporting produce across the country was in vogue. He resisted this trend, extolling the benefits of tomatoes, melons, greens, peaches and other produce grown by Maryland farmers. He argued that the local fruits and vegetables would cost the company less and taste better.

"The tomatoes bred for packing are those spongy pink things," said his daughter Anelle Tumminello of Arnold. "He said, `Let's buy local. There is a rainbow of tomato flavors.' He said that way, people will be interested in food."

When Mr. Tumminello was a boy, he learned about produce working by his father's side at the Fancy Fruits and Vegetables stall in Lexington Market. Customers were mostly hotels and restaurants, but they also sold fruit to regular shoppers.

"He knew produce; it was in his bones," Ms. Tumminello said.

Mr. Tumminello was born in Baltimore and grew up on Greene Street. He graduated from City College in 1929 and found work at suburban country clubs, according to his family.

He soon got a job as a clerk for an A&P store in Baltimore. He was employed by A&P for 35 years and eventually rose to become the chain's produce supervisor for Central Maryland, the Eastern Shore and parts of Delaware, according to the family. He retired in 1973.

Working in the grocery business, he developed sharp eye for shoplifters. "He'd walk into a store, see a woman and say, `She's got pork chops hidden in there,'" said another daughter, Frances Senft of Arnold.

Rather than call the police, Mr. Tumminello tried to reform the thieves and liked to chat with them about any innovative schemes they'd developed.

Ms. Senft recalled that her father once caught a man stealing records from a store using a pizza box with a false bottom.

"Dad would put his hand on their shoulder and say, `Why invent [something creative] for crime?'" Ms. Tumminello said. "He'd talk to them like real people and counsel them."

He kept many people out of the court system, Ms. Senft said.

Once a week, nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor came to Mr. Tumminello's stores and asked for fruit that was going bad and would soon be thrown out. "He would walk around the store and pick out the best fruits and vegetables and give it to them," Ms. Senft said. "He would never give them anything with a blemish on it."

He always paid the company for the produce he selected for the poor, Ms. Tumminello said.

Mr. Tumminello met his wife, Anele Waitekunas, when they were in grade school, and they married in 1935.

The couple lived from 1943 to 1973 in Ednor Gardens, where he grew Peace roses in the yard. "They had large blooms and are peach-colored, sunset-colored," Ms. Tumminello said. His daughters would cut the roses and bring flowers to their teachers.

After he retired, the couple moved to Arnold, where he and his wife took music and arts courses at Anne Arundel Community College.

"He was a very quiet man who puttered, but he puttered at a very high level. He would smooth out the bumps of life," Ms. Tumminello said.

A memorial Mass of Christian burial will be offered 11 a.m. Aug. 28 at St. Andrew by the Bay Roman Catholic Church, 701 College Parkway, Annapolis.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, he is survived by a third daughter, Anne Marie Helbing of Ellicott City; four grandsons; and one great-granddaughter.

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