Wilfred Von der Ahe; Vons Grocery Chain Co-Founder


Wilfred L. Von der Ahe, co-founder of Vons Grocery Co. and noted philanthropist and leader of Roman Catholic educational institutions, has died. He was 88.

Von der Ahe, who founded the grocery chain with his late brother Ted in 1932, died Friday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center of congestive heart failure, said his son, Thomas Von der Ahe.

The first Vons was a modest market in Lynwood with four employees--the two Von der Ahe brothers and two others. By 1948, Wilfred was opening the 15th store, which combined packaged foods, bakery, meat, deli and produce departments, becoming the nation’s first “supermarket.” By the time longtime President and board Chairman Ted Von der Ahe died in 1978, the chain had grown to 115 outlets.


Known as the “people man” of Vons, Wilfred Von der Ahe was beloved by his employees, who liked his open-door policy, firm handshake, conversation about their families and willingness to solve problems quickly.

He became a leader in the grocery industry, serving as director of the Food Employers Council, vice president of the Supermarket Institute, vice president of the National Assn. of Food Chains, president of the Western Assn. of Food Chains and president of the California Grocers Assn. He also was president of the Southern California Businessmen’s Assn.

Growing up in a large Catholic family, Von der Ahe attended Loyola High School and earned a law degree from Loyola University in Los Angeles. He later served as a Loyola Marymount University trustee, a regent of Santa Clara University, a member of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Education Foundation and on advisory boards of Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Little Sisters of the Poor Hospital and St. John of God Convalescent Hospital.

In 1996, Von der Ahe and his wife, Mary Jane, gave $1 million to St. Johns Seminary College in Camarillo to establish two endowed chairs for training priests.

Von der Ahe was made a Knight of Malta and a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory and in 1992 received the Cardinal’s Award from the Los Angeles archdiocese.

In addition to his wife, Von der Ahe is survived by their four children, Wilfred Jr. of Mariposa, Calif.; Charles and Thomas, both of Toluca Lake; and Tina E. Brown of Portland, Ore.; 18 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.


Funeral services are scheduled at 7:30 tonight at St. Charles Borromeo in North Hollywood.

The family has requested that any memorial contributions be made to the oncology department of Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank or to the pediatric brain research department of UCLA.