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Joseph E. Fernandes papers

This is an online exhibit that focuses on the life of Joseph Fernandes and the generational impact his chain of grocery stores had.


Joseph Fernandes was a well known individual, whose friends and former employees still speak quite highly of, over 10 years after his passing. He had several accomplishments in the food retail business specifically as the founder and CEO of the Fernandes Super Market chain, and spent countless hours both as an organizer and participant in community institutions and events, with a particular note of interest in the Portuguese-American community.

Mr. Fernandes was born in Arco da Calheta, in Madeira, Portugal, on March 12, 1923, to José and Rosa (Teixeira) Fernandes. He was given the name José Rodrigues Fernandes at birth, and would assume the name Eduardo at his confirmation around the age of 14. He immigrated to the United States in April of 1924, and lived most of his life in Norton, Massachusetts. By the time he was naturalized as a citizen in 1946, immediately following his discharge from the military, he was signing his name as Joseph E. Fernandes. 

He completed his university studies at Boston University after returning from military service, and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor’s in business administration. 

He married Annabelle Watson (1933-), who was born and raised in Taunton to Frerick H. and Esther A. Watson. Their wedding took place on April 24, 1954 at Sacred Heart Church (Taunton), and they honeymooned in Europe. Joseph and Annabelle went on to have three children:

  • Joseph W. "Jay" in 1955;
  • Marcia in 1957;
  • Donna in 1959.

He was very active in the retail food industry, and his accomplishments include:

  • Co-founder and director of the Staff Super Market Associates, a private label buying co-op of small, regional chains. At its height, Staff was comprised of 18 supermarket chains that included Hannaford, Wegmans, Schnucks, Bruno’s, and companies that now make up parts of larger supermarket organizations such as Stop & Shop and Safeway.
  • Served as vice president of the Super Market Management Association.
  • Served on the board of directors for the Food Marketing Institute.
  • Served on the board of directors for the Massachusetts Retail Grocers Association.
  • Served as president International Association of Chain Stores.

Mr. Fernandes' pride in his heritage was evident in the many groups and associations he was a member of; in particular, he:

  • Was the founding president of the Portuguese American Federation, and was instrumental in developing the television program “The Portuguese Around Us” which aired on WTEV in New Bedford and later Full Channel TV in Warren, Rhode Island.
  • Served as chairman of the Portuguese Cultural Union;
  • Was a member of the Portuguese Heritage Foundation.

He was recognized for his ardent support of Portuguese-American causes with the award of:

  • Peter Francisco Award, 1966.
  • Order of Prince Henry Society’s Man of the Year, 1995.

Mr. Fernandes passed on in August of 2007 of natural causes. 

 "He always said lived the American dream, arriving with nothing and building a business.  He was one of the largest employers in the region.  He never missed one day of school from 1st grade until 12th grade.  He would arrive with the janitor and leave with the janitor.  He was a very driven and intelligent person." Marcia


The following text was the obituary published by the funeral home in charge his internment.

Joseph E. Fernandes, 1923-2007

Joseph E. Fernandes, 84, of Norton, the former Chairman of the Board of Fernandes Super Markets and treasurer of J&R Investment, died, Sunday August 19, 2007 at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro. He was the husband of Annabelle (Watson) Fernandes.
Born in Madeira, Portugal on March 12, 1923 Mr. Fernandes was the son of the late Jose and Rosa (Teixeira) Fernandes. He had lived most of his life in Norton. He was a 1947 graduate of Boston University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree and received an honorary doctorate from Stonehill College.
He was an Army veteran, serving as a lieutenant during World War II, having earned the ETO-5 Battle Stars Presidential Unit Citation. Mr. Fernandes was a member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Founding Fernandes Super Markets in 1947, he remained in the industry until 1978, building a chain of 37 supermarkets employing over 2700 people in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Mr. Fernandes was the co-founder and director of Staff Supermarket Associates,
served as vice president of Super Market Management Association and was a special consultant for food distribution for the International Basic Economy Corporation headed by Nelson D. Rockefeller. While active in the industry, he served as a member of the Board of Directors for the
Food Marketing Institute as well as the Massachusetts Retail Grocers Association who elected him to their Hall of Fame in 1996. Mr. Fernandes also served as President of the International Association of Chain Stores headquartered in Paris, France and the head of Todos Supermarkets
in Puerto Rico.
Ever mindful of his Portuguese heritage, Mr. Fernandes was the founding President and director of the Portuguese American Federation and also served as Chairman of the Portuguese Cultural Foundation from whom he received the President’s award. He was named honorary President of
the Portuguese Cultural Union and was a member of the Portuguese Heritage Foundation. Mr. Fernandes served as President and was actively involved in fund raising for the Association for the Development of the Catholic University of Portugal. He served as President of the
Portuguese Times and the Portuguese Cable channel serving over 65 communities. He was instrumental in developing the television program “Portuguese Around Us” which aired on WTEV in New Bedford. He was the recipient of the Peter Francisco Award in 1966 and was also
the recipient of the Order of Prince Henry Society’s Man of the Year in 1995.
Mr. Fernandes’ civic activities ranged from the local through the international level. He served as Chairman of the Norton school committee, Chairman of the Norton Historical Commission and was a member of the town’s Industrial Commission. Mr. Fernandes was a member of the Norton Lions Club and the Norton Grange. He served as President and Director of the Bristol County Development Council, Director of the U.S.S. Massachusetts Memorial Committee, was a member of the Republican Club of Massachusetts and ran as a candidate for Massachusetts State Treasurer in 1964. Mr.Fernandes was also appointed by President Kennedy to be a special consultant for the State Department’s Alliance for Progress at Puente Del Este, Uruguay. He was awarded the Bicentennial Salute to Leadership Award in 1976 by Secretary of Treasury, William Simon; the Leadership Award led by President Ford, and received the Prime Minister’s Award Medal from the State of Israel. Mr. Fernandes was listed in Marquis “Who’s Who in America” and “Who’s Who in the World’. Mr. Fernandes was active in the Boy Scouts of America, serving as President and a Director of the Annawon Council. He also served as a Director of the Northeast Region of the Boy Scouts being
the Manpower Committee Chairman. He had been the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award and the Silver Antelope Award.
Mr. Fernandes was a communicant of Saint Mary’s Church in Norton, having formerly served as a Trustee. He was a member of the Sierra Club of Attleboro, and served on the Committee of the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament in New Bedford. He was bestowed the honor of Knight of St.
Gregory the Great by Pope John XXIII in 1961 and was named Man of the Year in 1964 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 2000, he was elected to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher by Pope Paul II.
Mr. Fernandes served on the Board of Directors of BayBank United, Manufacturer’s National Bank, Massachusetts Easter Seal Society, Massachusetts Lung Association, Massachusetts Blue Shield, Goodwill Industries, Fall River Line Authority and Fall River Cable TV. He served as a Trustee for Salve Regina College, Bishop Feehan High School and Stonehill College where he was also a member of the Century Club. Mr. Fernandes also served on the Boards at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, the University of Massachusetts, Boston University and Wheaton College.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Fernandes is survived by his son, Joseph W. “Jay” Fernandes of Norton, his daughter, Marcia Fernandes, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, his daughter, Donna Fernandes-Savage and her husband, Robert, of Buffalo, New York, and a grandson, J. Skyler Fernandes, of Norton. He is also survived by his three sisters, Bemvinda “Be” Pires, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, Mary Murphy-Gabiola, of Meridian, Idaho and Evangeline “Vangie” Fonseca, of Norton and many nieces and nephews.
His funeral, to which relatives and friends are cordially invited to attend, will be held on Saturday August 25th at 9:00 A.M. from the Norton Memorial Funeral Home 19 Clapp St. (Off Route 140, Taunton Ave.) Norton followed by a Mass of Christian concelebrated at 10:00 A.M. in St. Mary’s Church, South Worcester St., Norton. Burial will follow in the Norton Center Cemetery, Norton. Visiting hours will be held on Friday August 24th from 4-8 P.M. at the Norton Memorial Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, Mr. Fernandes’s family has requested that donations in his memory be made to St. Mary’s Church Building Fund P.O. Box 430 Norton, MA 02766

Original text found here:


Military Service



The Fernandes cousins grew up together--literally, they all lived on the same street, named 'Fernandes Circle'

Donna remembers:

I was accepted to the Ph.D programs of both Princeton and Cornell, studying Biology.
While walking around Cornell they told me that they had accepted one other student to the program, his name was Tony Pires from Harvard.
I replied “that’s my cousin”, they were astonished and I said “well, we grew up on the same pond”.

Image from Google Maps




Mr. Fernandes whole heartedly supported his children, and his only grandchild, in their own professional endeavors. Although Jay, Marcia, Donna and Sky did not opt to enter the supermarket business, they are all incredibly accomplished individuals, with their father's (and grandfather's!) entrepreneurial, business and forward-thinking spirit clearly demonstrated in their professional lives.  

Jay Fernandes was a professional musician until retiring to Florida in 2018. Fernandes is a Berklee School of Music graduate who has been recording and writing his own songs since age 11. Fernandes was a member of a popular New England band “The Probers” during the 1970’s and 1980’s. He opened a recording studio in Norton, Saucer Sound, and collaborated with local artists producing their music.

Fernandes initially attended BU, his father's alma mater, but realized his passion was music!

Marcia Fernandes has been retired since December 2018. Currently she volunteers as the President of her condo Association, The Cove Beach Club. Fernandes had a divergent professional life and was an entrepreneur beginning with launching a cosmetic brand Uptown Cosmetics, in Caracas, Venezuela in the early 1980’s. After returning to the United States from Venezuela in 1986 she settled in Florida where she began importing and wholesaling Venezuelan art and clay floor and roof tiles. She also dabbled in real estate investment and holds a Florida Real Estate License.

In 1998 Fernandes began teaching at several local colleges, eventually being employed full time at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. She taught a broad range of courses based on her experience and education. Fernandes has a BS in Marketing, 1979 and an MBA from Babson College, 1980. She earned an MA in Communication from Barry University in 1997.

Dr. Donna Fernandes has served as the Director of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace since October 2018. Prior to joining PetSpace, she was the President/CEO of the Buffalo Zoo. During her 17-year tenure in Buffalo, she raised more than $50 million in capital funds and transformed an aging urban zoo into a state-of-the-art facility. In addition to her duties at the Zoo, she served as a part-time instructor in Animal Behavior at Canisius College and adjunct Assistant Professor in Anthropology at the University of Buffalo. Dr. Fernandes was honored by the Buffalo Zoo in 2019 (two years after her retirement) with a building named after her, the 'Donna M. Fernandes Reptile Center'. 

Prior to joining the Buffalo Zoo, Dr. Fernandes worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York as the Curator of Animals and Education at Prospect Park Wildlife Center. Before that, she was Vice President of Programs at Zoo New England in Boston and hosted a live weekly television show for middle school students focused on insects and other arthropods. She has also served as the resident animal expert for National Public Radio’s Living on Earth.

Fernandes holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior from Princeton University. She also has a Master’s in Business Administration from Simmons School of Management.

J. Skyler (Sky) Fernandes is ranked as a Powerlist 100 VC and is the Co-Founder & General Partner of VU Venture Partners, a multi-stage venture capital fund focused on Consumer, Enterprise, Fintech, Frontier Tech, Healthcare, and Property Tech.  VU has a ~50 person investment team and has offices in San Francisco, New York City, and Hong Kong.  Sky is also the Co-Founder & CEO of Venture University, the world's leading investor accelerator for individuals breaking into venture capital, private equity, and angel investing.  

Previously, Sky was the Managing Director of Investments at Cleveland Avenue, a fund focused on food and beverage brands, food related technology, and new restaurant concepts, co-founded by the former President and CEO of McDonald's.

Prior to Cleveland Avenue, Sky was the Founder, Head, and Managing Director of Simon Venture Group (SVG), the investment arm of Simon Property Group, an S&P 100 company, and the largest retail real estate company in the world, which at the time had more retail sales than Amazon and Apple combined.

Sky has developed key resources, such as "The Best Startup Pitch Deck" (viewed and downloaded 500,000+ times and used by leading accelerators and business schools).  Sky also created the #1 startup and VC board game, "The Next Big Thing: The Game of Entrepreneurship",

Sky graduated early from New York University (NYU), summa cum laude, due to his studies at Harvard University in Physics and Foreign Policy.  

Jose Fernandes and Family

Marcia wrote "...there is an article...which discusses a Labor Day tradition my grandfather started, a Portuguese Fiesta named "Our Lady of Loretto [sic]". My grandfather really missed Madeira whereas my grandmother was very happy in her new found country and the security and opportunity it gave her family which were very poor in Madeira. My grandfather first immigrated to this country and then worked several years saving up money for the passage of his wife and two children at the time, my Aunt Bemvinda and my Dad. Born here in this country were two more children Mary Isabelle and Evangeline. One of the reasons my grandmother had no desire to return to Madeira was that a daughter, Maria Isabel, had passed while she waited for my grandfather to send for them. She gave the same name to one of her daughters who would be born in the US" 

Helen Yelle

The following is an except from the book "The Devil's Fooprints" in which, Mrs. Helen Caffrey Yelle, the head of the Commercial Department at Norton Highschool for 34 years, reminisces about Joseph Fernandes:

"We asked Mrs. Yelle if she could recall any out­standing students out of the many hundreds she had pass through her classes. Without hesitation, Mrs. Yelle replied that her outstanding student in terms of ability to learn and willingness to work hard for long hours was Joseph E. Fernandes. She recalls an occasion in the short­hand class where she was explaining a list of "short forms" that had to be learned during the course and demonstrated that the list could be recited in three minutes. "Joe" announced that he would do it in less time the next day, which he did, after staying up most of the night working on it. We asked Mrs. Yelle how "Joe" got into college after taking the commercial course. She answered, "Oh, Joe took the college course, and also completed the commer­cial course on the side."

Yelle, Joseph E. The devil's footprints and other sketches of old Norton. Norton Historical Society,1979


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