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Former ShopRite chain CEO Kenny dies at 85

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WILMINGTON – Bernard “Bernie” Francis Kenny Jr., the patriarch of a family-owned chain of ShopRite grocery stores who also founded an active philanthropic foundation, died Dec. 30. He was 85.

Bernard "Bernie" Kenny Jr.

Bernard “Bernie” Kenny Jr. | PHOTO COURTESY OF KENNY FAMILY

A cause of death was not disclosed in an obituary, but Kenny reportedly passed away at home with his wife of 59 years, Peggy.

Born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., just outside of New York City, Kenny joined the U.S. Army as a teen. He earned the rank of master sergeant in the 101st Airborne before graduating from the elite Airborne Ranger School.

His career in the grocery business began at the age of 12, when he helped string up livestock in a freezer for a local butcher. After the Army, he worked his way through the leadership at New Jersey-based Pathmark, especially under his mentors Al Aidekman, Herb Brody, and Milt Perlmutter, who broke away from the Wakefern Cooperative that ran ShopRites to operate their stores.

For decades he worked at Pathmark and rose to become a senior vice president in the company. But in 1995, he was recruited by Wakefern Cooperative to purchase two ShopRite locations in Delaware – those in Stanton and Brandywine Hundred.

Christina Crossing Wilmington Delaware ShopRite

The Christina Crossing ShopRite is the largest grocery store in the state and the highest revenue producer. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

He formed the Kenny Family ShopRites of Delaware, a company that now counts six locations in its portfolio across New Castle County. Today, the company ranks among the largest independent grocery store chains in the First State and counts the state’s biggest revenue-producing store at its Riverfront location.

“Not only did Bernie build a successful family-owned company committed to his associates, customers and community, he also played a key role as a member of our Wakefern family. He served on our board of directors for nearly 20 years and worked on several Wakefern committees. He was a straight-talking store owner and operator who led by example and with a passion that we all will miss,” Wakefern Food Corp. Chairman Sean McMenamin told Delaware Business Times.

In a 2012 interview with Out & About magazine, daughter Melissa Kenny recalled how her father would often talk with staffers at his stores.

“He grew up poor. He dropped out of school. He hates to see people who feel they’re stuck,” she said. “[He often tells new hires], ‘I was a cart guy once. Work hard. Maybe you can own your own supermarket someday.”

Bernie Kenny ShopRite Melissa Chris Kenny

Bernie Kenny, right, talks with his children Chris and Melissa Kenny at the 25th anniversary celebration of the family stores in 2021. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Kenny led the family business until 2012, when he passed the store franchise management to his children, with his son Chris serving as president and CEO to this day.

“Bernie served his country and community through boundless giving and fearless dedication to high moral standards, regardless of personal peril. With a ferocity and vigor known and felt deeply before his physical presence arrived,” Chris told DBT.

Family and business have always been intertwined with the Kennys as Bernie met his wife, Peggy, in a grocery store’s dairy department. Together they raised two children and adopted four more. They also served together as foster parents in New Jersey and Delaware, caring for 113 foster children between 1966 and 2019. The family worked with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services to provide mentor support and guidance for new foster families.

Kenny was equally devoted to his community, and founded the nonprofit Kenny Family Foundation in 2009, serving as its chair until 2021. The foundation has donated several million dollars to hundreds of causes across the state.

“The Food Bank of Delaware team extends our heartfelt condolences to the entire Kenny family. The Kenny Family Foundation, under Bernie’s leadership, does so much good. Bernie was always committed to our organization’s vision of our a community free of hunger. His generosity positively impacted thousands of lives in our community, and most importantly, he made sure that all Delawareans had access to fresh, affordable food,” said Cathy Kanefsky, the president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware.

He also implemented job readiness programs, and ShopRite worked with Goodwill Industries to train hundreds of individuals for grocery positions.

Kenny is survived by his wife, Peggy; his brother, Richard; and his children and their spouses, Kathleen (William), Thomas, Melissa (Mark), Christopher (Teresa), Matthew and Carlie; along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Relatives and friends are invited to visit at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, 7200 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at St. Mary of the Assumption Church at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 6. 

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