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Ex-grocer's full heart led him to fill bellies

Robert Dominguez was a hero on many fronts, earning a Purple Heart in war and earning the gratitude of a local food bank for his generosity.

By RON MATUS
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 12, 2002


ROBERT DOMINGUEZ
1924-1992

* * *

RIVERSIDE HEIGHTS -- At the Divine Providence Food Bank, they called him "Mr. D."

Robert Dominguez began volunteering after his wife, Ruth, a part-time employee, began showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

He stayed for 15 years.

He sorted food. Cooked hot meals for low-income children. And for the staff, served his specialty: fried turkey.

"He was such a kind man," said Sherryl Herbert, the food bank's executive director. "He never said no."

Mr. Dominguez, an Ybor City native, World War II veteran and former owner of the Bay Front Market in Palmetto Beach, died June 28. He was 77.

Mr. Dominguez spent a lifetime providing for others.

If customers at his grocery didn't have enough money, he would let them pay later, said his son, Robert Dominguez Jr.

In France during World War II, he used a machine gun to kill a cow so he and his fellow troops could have fresh meat, his son said.

He helped butcher it in the face of enemy fire.

Family and history shaped him.

Mr. Dominguez, one of seven children, grew up during the Depression.

"They were never well off," his son said. "He learned to share."

Mr. Dominguez and his late brother Jimmy owned their market on 22nd Street store for 40 years, his son said. They sold it in 1988 after the state bought half the parking spaces to widen the road.

About that time, Mr. Dominguez, a Riverside Heights resident, began volunteering at the food bank, which until May was a block north of Kennedy Boulevard. Now it's on Adamo Drive, east of downtown.

At first, he helped his wife work. But he continued after she was no longer able.

Once a week for years, Mr. Dominguez drove his pickup to Dover for a load of eggs. On Sundays, he parked in hot church parking lots, waiting for parishioners to come out with their food donations. Sometimes when the food bank distributed in Latino neighborhoods, Mr. Dominguez would go along as the interpreter.

Divine Providence officials said only one other individual has logged more volunteer time.

Mr. Dominguez was "probably the last of a breed," said Betty Kolby, the food bank's resource development director.

He always wanted to work, she said. He always wanted to help.

Friends described Mr. Dominguez as quiet, modest.

He never talked about the war or the shrapnel still in his leg.

He never talked about his Purple Heart.

Friends said he'd rather make a big dinner of spaghetti or sausage. Or fry a turkey.

At his funeral, family members noted that he always cooked for a crowd.

"He never cooked a little," Herbert said.

For years, Mr. Dominguez brought his wife to the food bank every time he went to volunteer. But in June she was admitted to a nursing home.

They were married 53 years ago this week.

"He was heartbroken," his son said.

Soon after, Mr. Dominguez visited his son's home in South Carolina so he could take a break. He died a few days later.

Mr. Dominguez was buried July 3, with full military honors, at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

Survivors include his wife, Ruth; a daughter, Claudia Robb; sons Tracy, Robert and Richard; sisters, Cecilia Dominguez and Mary Caruso; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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