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AGE: 83 • Freehold
Joseph Saker, 83, of Freehold, industry leader, founder and chairman of Foodarama Supermarkets (now Saker ShopRites), and a founding Wakefern member who realized early the importance of education in the supermarket business, died Sunday in Meridian Nursing Home, Shrewsbury. Mr. Saker grew up in Freehold and in the grocery business his grandfather first started in the town nearly a century ago. Wohbe Saker, an immigrant from Lebanon, peddled food from a pushcart in Lower Manhattan before purchasing a small farm just outside Freehold. He opened the family's first grocery in 1916, in a 17-by-40-foot general store located right in town. Wohbe's son John, together with his wife Mary, Mr. Saker's parents, grew the store into a thriving business. But it was the grandson, Mr. Saker, who would eventually grow the business into a multi-store company through his membership in Wakefern. He had the foresight to join Wakefern in 1950, during the first few years of the fledgling cooperative. He began operating under the ShopRite banner, incorporating Foodarama Supermarkets in 1958, and taking the company public in 1965.
"He knew he had to reduce costs to be able to compete with the larger chains and Wakefern the cooperative was a solution to taking costs out of the system and eliminating the middle man," recalled his son, Richard Saker, CEO for Saker ShopRites. An entrepreneur and pioneer, Mr. Saker recognized the importance of balancing business and good government. He understood that grocers needed a voice to represent the food industry before government leaders and this vision led to the creation of the New Jersey Food Council, where he served as founding chairman. He also helped start the Academy of Food Marketing and Food Marketing Educational Foundation at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, one of the few business programs dedicated to the supermarket industry. Mr. Saker had served as a past chairman and member of the Board of Governors of the organization. "He was a guy who could clearly see the big picture. He knew you needed highly educated people in the food industry and that was a very unselfish position for him to take. Not all those people were going to work for him, some were going to work for competitors, but he still saw it as benefitting the industry as a whole," said Richard Saker. And Joseph Saker dedicated himself over the years to his work and Wakefern.
During the early days of the cooperative, when the ShopRite concept was taking off, members helped each other and often attended one another's store openings.
In Wakefern's history book, A Symphony of Soloists: The Story of Wakefern and ShopRite, Mr. Saker recalled one store opening in 1954 as "swarming with customers" and nearly overwhelming the staff. "I yelled out…'Get me a register,' and soon I was punching the keys. I spent most of the day there," Joseph Saker said of the day.
Richard Saker said his dad was often happiest behind the counter or working in the aisles.
"Someone asked him one day what his hobbies were," recalled Richard Saker. "He said, 'work and I love every minute of it.' That's just the way dad was and that describes him and his generation, the early founders of Wakefern. Their lives were dedicated to their business, and they loved what they did." Mr. Saker retired in 2005. A year later, Richard Saker took the company private and renamed it Saker ShopRites.
A graduate of Freehold High School, Joseph Saker received an honorary degree in commercial science from St. Joseph's University. He was a member of the Board of Directors, Officers and Finance Committee of Wakefern. He was a past chairman and former member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Food Merchants Association.
He also served as a past president and charter member of the CentraState Medical Center Board of Trustees, Century Club member of the Monmouth County Boy Scouts, Century Club member of Christian Brothers Academy, and past Grand Knight and member of Knights of Columbus. Mr. Saker loved music and dancing and taught himself the piano. He would dance and sing duets with his wife, Gloria, whenever he had the opportunity at family or social events. His life, his work, and his success recall the words to his favorite song, "The Impossible Dream."
Mr. Saker is survived by his wife, Gloria (nee Tatarinchik); his children and their spouses, Richard and Laura, Nadine and Andrew Mockler, Denise Saker, Lisa Saker, Joseph and Sheri, and Thomas and Kristen; 14 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
Relatives and friends are invited to visit from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 at St. Rose of Lima Chapel, Freehold. Funeral services will be private. Family and close friends are invited to attend the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 28 at St. Rose of Lima Chapel. Arrangements are under the direction of the Freeman Funeral Home, 47 East Main St., Freehold. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorial donations to the CentraState Healthcare Foundation or the Meridian Health Foundation. Please visit Joe's memorial website at www.freemanfuneralhomes.com where you may access directions, make a donation and leave condolences.
Published in Asbury Park Press on Sept. 26, 2012