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Henry John Fernandez was advocate for Tampa's Latin culture and a founder of the Knights of Sant'Yago

TAMPA — Determined that Tampa preserve and promote its Latin heritage, Henry John Fernandez traveled with friends to Spain to research an ancient order dedicated to doing good and right.

That excursion more than three decades ago grew into a social organization that nurtured Tampa's Latin culture and molded city tradition — the Krewe of the Knights of Sant'Yago.

Dr. Fernandez, 84, died Sunday. Family members said he had never fully recovered from quadruple-bypass surgery two years ago.

Besides being one of the founders of the krewe, the Tampa-born-and-raised optometrist helped create the Haciendas de Ybor housing complex and what became the Barrio Latino Commission to protect the architectural integrity of Ybor City.

"Henry was probably one of the most dedicated people I've ever met, dedicated to the betterment of Tampa and Ybor City," said Cesar Gonzmart Jr., whose family has run the iconic Columbia restaurant and who served with Dr. Fernandez on the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Fernandez "didn't do anything halfway," said daughter Debra Fernandez, who lives in New York.

More than 30 years ago, he and four other men, including Cesar Gonzmart Sr., felt Tampa needed an organization dedicated to advancing its Latin background.

They traveled to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela to learn more about the Brotherhood of the Caballeros of the Royal Order of St. James, the centuries-old order that the krewe became modeled after.

"Henry had been involved with the structure, the bylaws, its goals and missions and purposes of the organization," Gonzmart Jr. said.

Dr. Fernandez was named El Rey IV in 1976, the king of the krewe.

Now, the krewe has about 300 members. It has sponsored the annual night parade and awarded scholarships to Latino children through its foundation.

His dedication to shaping the city's Latin culture helped create the Barrio Latino Commission, an organization that aimed to restore Ybor City to its traditional heritage.

The commission now has the responsibility of keeping the historic and architectural integrity of the Ybor City Historic District.

"They were very dedicated to preserving the economic fabric," said Gonzmart of Dr. Fernandez and his father. "They were men of vision, men who wanted to revitalize their city."

Debra Fernandez said her father's involvement in creating the Haciendas de Ybor meant the most to her. The housing complex provides affordable housing to the elderly.

"The Latino people could come back to Ybor City, come back to their roots," she said.

Her uncle and grandmother spent their last days living at Haciendas de Ybor.

Up until his last days, Dr. Fernandez showed the charisma that can be thanked for his success, his two daughters said.

"Charming all the nurses, right until the end," said daughter Diana Fields, who lives in New York.

"When my father entered a room," Debra Fernandez said, "the party started."

Amy Mariani can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or amariani@sptimes.com.

>>Biography

Henry John Fernandez

Born: Aug. 2, 1925.

Died: Aug. 9, 2009.

Survivors: daughters, Diana Fields and Debra Fernandez; one grandchild; and three great-grandchildren.

Henry John Fernandez was advocate for Tampa's Latin culture and a founder of the Knights of Sant'Yago 08/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 10:46pm]
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