Local icon Bud Foster dies at 100

  • Frank “Bud” Foster, founder of Foster’s Supermarket, who turned 100 in 2020, has died. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Frank “Bud” Foster, founder of Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield, holds two 5-pound lobsters during a 50 years of business celebration on Sept. 13, 1991. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Frank “Bud” Foster, founder of Foster’s Supermarket, who turned 100 in 2020, has died. He was living in Arizona for the past decade. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • June Foster, who died in 2007, and Frank “Bud” Foster in 1988. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • In 1994, Morley Safer of the long running television news program “60 Minutes” visited with Frank “Bud” Foster at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2021 6:46:03 PM

The man who wore “wild” bow ties and pink and purple zebra-striped pants, and who became famous locally for his radio commercials, including “Feesh (fish), feesh (fish), fresh feesh (fish),” and “Corn, corn picked early this morn,” has died at the age of 100.

Local icon Frank R. “Bud” Foster, who built a small mom-and-pop grocery store into an independent supermarket in Greenfield and turned 100 years old in May 2020 at his home in Arizona was known for his flamboyant manner. He died early Sunday morning.

The centenarian was one of the first Greenfield Recorder Citizen of the Year recipients in 1985, and soon after was honored for his longtime support of the local Kiwanis Club, serving as its auctioneer and organizer of its annual auction.

Foster’s commercials also included “Watta, watta, watermelon” and “Banana, banana, banana,” familiar to so many people of a certain age. He enthusiastically marketed his fresh lobsters. He entertained people and drew them into his store, and though his voice was a bit weaker in the past couple of years, people say they could still hear the man who did those commercials with such bravado.

He and his companion, Judi Smith, who previously lived in Montague City, found themselves “shut in” at their gated community last spring after COVID-19 arrived in the United States. Foster said he had been “very active” in that community, but Smith added that he had slowed down and needed a walker to get around their home.

Foster ran Foster’s Supermarket until his two grandsons took over operations several decades ago. He retired in 1981, but remained the owner and a constant presence there before turning over the store in 1986 to the two men. He still owned his home in Bernardston where he and his wife, June, had raised their family. She died and eventually he and Smith became companions. They moved to Arizona about 10 years ago and hadn’t been back to the area for several years.

Grocery business

Born in Leyden in 1920, Foster started in business in 1941 as a part owner of the student store at Mount Hermon School not long after graduating from there. When the independent Gill school took over the space, he decided to go into business for himself selling groceries.

“I was going to buy a country store,” the longtime Bernardston resident said in a 2006 interview. “I didn’t like the way they were selling groceries.”

In 1952, he moved the store to Chapman Street, taking over Creek’s Market and offering customers free delivery. From the outset, he traded with local farmers and had a marketing savvy that made him a local fixture for decades. In 1994, he had a visit from CBS’s Morley Safer for a “60 Minutes” segment on small-scale retailing in an age dominated by large stores like Walmart.

“When I first came to town in 1952, every street had its own market: Devens Street Market, Hurlburt’s Market on Conway Street,” he said. “As time went on, they’d buy from me because I had the stuff. Now they’re all gone.”

When Foster built a larger store at 207 Silver St. in 1954, he made another change that would add to his popularity as a grocer in a town with no place to buy fresh seafood.

“I didn’t like the way they would bring me the seafood, so I went after it; the same with the produce. I was too darn fussy,” Foster said in that 2006 interview.

He began driving to Boston twice a week for fresh seafood and produce, often hauling local produce to the Boston market to help area farmers if they had more than they could handle. His grandsons still drive to Boston at least once a week.

In 1974, Foster’s Market outgrew its Silver Street store and moved to what had been Trifilo’s Market at Conway and Allen streets, eventually expanding there to more than 20,000 square feet of sales space.

“I’ve had an interesting life,” Foster said in an interview last spring.

Remembering Bud Foster

“There’s so much to say about Dad,” Frank “Randy” Foster III said from his home in Northfield on Monday.

Foster had four children, 15 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren. He and June, who died in 2007, helped numerous families and their children over the years.

Randy Foster said his father died of natural causes.

“It wasn’t a surprise that someone of that age would go, but it still stings,” he said. “He was a kind, extremely generous gentleman.”

The younger Foster said his father was a great role model who taught him many things, especially how to “see” other people and how to work hard.

“He touched so many lives,” he said. “He helped the local church in Bernardston, the Kiwanis, anyone who was in need. And he was such a unique personality in Franklin County.”

Foster remembers one of his cousins started doing the radio commercials for the store, but soon after his father took over and never looked back.

“He never had a script,” he recalled. “It was whatever came out of his mouth. He was an immediate success and people wanted to see the store and the person who they heard on the radio.”

He said his father used to let people drive to Boston with him when he went to pick up seafood and produce.

“When you went to Boston with Bud Foster, it was an adventure,” he said. “He’d take everyone from age 7 to 75, and he treated everyone the same.”

He said the reason his father was so healthy and lived such a long life was the fresh produce he ate all of his life.

“Every breakfast included fruit,” he said. “He used to bring home the fruit he couldn’t sell and we’d eat it. He started jogging in his 40s, before it became popular. He was very strong physically, as well as his personality. He’ll be missed dearly.”

Foster said that although his father couldn’t make it to Massachusetts to celebrate his 100th birthday last year, the town had a drive-by celebration, in which almost 50 vehicles took part. Bud Foster was on video to watch it all.

“The last thing he did for me was sing the Mount Hermon School benediction two months ago,” Randy Foster said. “We both graduated from there. He sang it verbatim. It brought tears to my eyes. His legacy will surely live on.”

Overwhelming generosity

Matthew Deane, co-owner of Foster’s Supermarket with his brother, Jason, said his grandfather was not only the patriarch of the family, but of the business as well.

“Not too many people live to 100, and he was pretty healthy for most of those years,” Deane said. “It was just that last couple that he slowed down. He had a good, long life.”

Deane said Foster will be missed greatly by family, friends and acquaintances.

Matthew Deane’s wife, Robin, said Foster was always picking up the intercom at work, reciting a different version of some of his commercials like, “Buy a banana, cook a banana, eat a banana.”

“He was definitely a people person,” she said. “He also loved to sing. We were told the night before he died he went to bed singing.”

Robert “Bob” Raymond, who serves as a selectman in Bernardston, knew Foster well. He said there was almost nothing Foster wouldn’t do for his community.

“He was the anonymous donor of $25,000 when we were siding the Town Hall,” Raymond recalled. “He asked for people to match the $25,000. The entire project ended up costing about $85,000.”

Raymond said Foster was the grand marshal of the town’s 250th celebration parade and donated $3,000 for the fiddle contest it held during that celebration. Each Memorial Day for years, Foster served as that parade’s grand marshal, driving a John Deere tractor with a bell.

“I think he also helped pay for the tent,” Raymond said. “He always loved music.”

He said Foster donated money to the Selectboard so that it had money for smaller things that weren’t budgeted, and he was “instrumental” in getting the gas engine show and flea market in Bernardston started.

“He was also very big into the church,” he said. “He would run suppers, funeral services, sang in the choir and so much more. He always made sure less fortunate children had holiday gifts. He was a good-hearted, good-natured, optimistic person.”

Robin Deane said Foster and his family were named “Methodist Family of the Year.”

Raymond said Foster donated land for the Fire Station and then more for its expansion, which is still in the works.

“I loved him like a father,” he said. “He was always upbeat, even if he wasn’t feeling well. We all wanted to travel out to Arizona last year and celebrate his 100th birthday, but the pandemic prevented us from doing it.”

Raymond said Foster’s passing is a “huge loss,” but he was happy that he always stayed in touch with him.

“He got my last letter the day before he passed,” he said. “He worked hard and played hard and got to do what he loved to do. Everyone liked him.”

‘Always ready and willing’

Bernardston resident Russell Deane said he considered Foster a “great friend” almost his entire life.

“We became close right after high school,” Deane said. “We went to different schools, but got to know each other through our church.”

Deane said they would work at United Church of Bernardston suppers and tag sales together.

“We were always sharing ideas,” Deane said. “If I had an idea to do something, Bud would say, ‘Will it hurt anyone?’ If I said ‘no,’ he would say, ‘Then, let’s do it.’”

Deane said Foster was “always ready and willing,” and when there was a problem to be solved, he’d start singing.

“He was one heck of a guy,” he said.

Deane said for years they made carrot cake for church dinners. He said Foster was always trying something new — he wanted to find just the right combination of ingredients.

One day, he said Foster told him, “I’ve got it now.”

“And he did,” Deane said. “We’ve been using that recipe ever since.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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