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Franklin J. Spina, longtime grocery executive was dedicated to charity work

Oct. 2, 1933 — July 15, 2018

Franklin J. Spina spent his long career in the grocery business, mostly at Sorrento Cheese Co., where he worked for some 35 years.

But he was best known for his dynamic, gregarious personality and dedication to organizations that helped children, especially the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Women and Children's Hospital.

Mr. Spina, of Hamburg, died on July 15, 2018, in Buffalo General Medical Center after an illness of 24 hours. He was 84.

"He was a people person and he loved life," said his son Anthony P. Spina. "I never saw him in a bad mood. He always found a positive way of looking at something, and that contributed to his success in life professionally and personally. He was genuine."

Mr. Spina was born in Buffalo on Oct. 2, 1933, the first child of the late Michael J. and Louise (Gengo) Spina and the brother of Caroline and Ann Maria Spina.

He was a graduate of Lafayette High School, and attended Buffalo State College before being drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served from 1953 to 1955, including a deployment to Korea.

In 1956, he met Elizabeth Rose, and they wed on June 27, 1959. Besides Anthony P., they were the parents of Michael J. and Mary Rose Spina.

In 1957, Mr. Spina began working in the retail and wholesale grocery business. His early jobs included working as sales manager of the Bravo Macaroni Co. in Rochester, vice president of sales at the U.S. Sugar Co. and national sales manager of Freezer Queen Foods.

But he found a home and a family when he started at Sorrento Cheese Co. in 1977, where he served as vice president of sales and senior vice president of trade relations. Mr. Spina "helped to successfully grow their business into the top selling national brand in their category," said his son Michael. "Frank would tell his family, yes they had the best cheese, but the difference was the Russo family. They were second to none."

Mr. Spina left Sorrento in 1993 for Bison Products, which became Battistoni. He pushed for the name change, he said at the time, because "when I went to New Jersey or Virginia, people said, 'What is that, buffalo meat?' Besides, we make Italian sausages, we need an Italian name."

But his ties to Sorrento were too strong. In 1994, he returned to the company in his original position, staying there until 2011, when he became industrial national sales manager at Miceli Dairy Products Company in Cleveland. In 2014, he  became vice president of industrial sales at Castelli America in Jamestown, where he was working at the time of his death.

He was extremely close to his sons, Anthony Spina said. If he had to discipline his boys, "I got yelled at for a second, then we sat down and ate," he said.

He supported his sons in their academic and sports pursuits and their professional careers, and in the 1990s, helped greet people at their restaurant, Spina's Red Carpet on Main Street in Williamsville.

For most of Mr. Spina's career, he traveled nationally. During the time his sons operated the restaurant, said Anthony Spina, "He would get off the airplane early Thursday night, drive to the restaurant and hit the floor at the restaurant Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He loved life, and he enjoyed people."

It was his daughter's diagnosis as a baby that prompted Mr. Spina to become involved in the Muscular Dystrophy Association around 1965, Anthony Spina said. Through the years, Mr. Spina served as general chairman and president of the Western New York Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He also served on the committee of the national organization and was involved with the Labor Day telethons up until last year.

"He was at the telethon start to finish, all night, straight through," said Anthony Spina. But far from one weekend, the work was "a yearlong thing for him."

He served on the board of directors of Women and Children's Hospital, Boys Town of Italy, New York State Food Merchants, Boy Scouts, the Italian American Association, the United Way and the the Columbus Day Committee. He also sat on the boards of directors of many food companies, including the Food Industry Executives Council, the National Private Label Association and Food Industry Sales.

He belonged to the Bridgewater Country Club, then became a 30-year member of Wanakah Country Club.

"He had a zest for living and everyone he came into contact with," said his son Michael. "It did not make any difference if you were a company owner or a truck driver. Frank would always say everyone counts, everyone matters, and everyone has something to tell you that is important to them."

Mr. Spina often credited his wife, Elizabeth, for providing the support that enabled him to excel in his field.

Franklin and Elizabeth Spina celebrating their 50th anniversary

In 1987, he received the Justice Michael A. Musmanno Citation of Honor Award from the National Columbus Day Committee and was named "Man of the Year" by the Italian-American Police Association of Western New York.

He was a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Romulus Club and the Grocery Manufacturers Representatives.

His family said that in later years, nothing gave Mr. Spina more joy than his four grandsons and granddaughter. Some of his happiest moments were at the September wedding of his granddaughter, Elizabeth.

He would call his friends and relatives every year on their birthdays, and on New Year's Eve, he would call everyone in his address book, his family said. He dressed up as Santa Claus for holiday office parties and had a repertoire of jokes for every occasion.

Besides his wife, two sons and daughter, he is survived by his sister Caroline Annunziata and several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Mr. Spina donated his body to the University at Buffalo's Anatomical Gift program.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be said starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 28, in St. Mary of the Lake Church, 4737 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg.

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