WARREN - Albert Covelli, business visionary who founded Warren-based Covelli Enterprises and was a philanthropic giant, died Saturday at his home in Florida.
He was 94.
The Covelli name has been well-known in Warren since Covelli chose a location on West Market Street for his first McDonald's franchise in 1959. In the nearly 40 years that followed, Covelli Enterprises became the largest franchisee of McDonald's restaurants, opening 50 in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Covelli and his son, Sam, sold their interest in McDonald's and began franchising Panera Bread restaurants in 1997, and since, have become the largest franchisee of that brand, with more than 250 locations in five states and Canada, with a work force of more than 25,000 - 2,000 of them locally.
John Perdue, who with his wife, Michelle, got their start as owners / operators in the McDonald's chain when they bought some of Covelli Enterprise's restaurants, said Covelli's genius was finding the right businesses. Both McDonald's and Panera are highly successful, he said.
''It comes down to hard work,'' said John Perdue, who, in his youth, worked for Covelli in one of his McDonald's restaurants in Erie, Pa. ''He did his homework, and he always worked hard.''
''I'm going to miss him,'' Perdue said. ''Not that we talked every day, but knowing he was there if I had a problem, I could call.''
Covelli, born in Kenosha, Wis., returned home after serving in World War II as a lieutenant medical administrative officer in hospitals overseas to open an open air market that expanded to three locations.
His success led him to become the founder of a wholesale produce company, where he added a frozen food and dairy distributorship before moving to Warren.
Robert Fiorino, CFO for Covelli Enterprises, who began his career as controller with the company in 1986 when it was Covelli Management Co., said Covelli was a role model and mentor who ''taught me integrity and commitment every day.''
Covelli's legacy, said Fiorino, are his family, his community and employees of Covelli Enterprises, ''he was so proud of all of them.''
Covelli will also be remembered for his giving and faith.
A member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, he regularly provided financial support and was supportive of the mission of the parish, said the Rev. Don King, the former pastor at Blessed Sacrament who now is the pastor at St. Michael The Archangel Parish in Canton.
If the church knew of someone in need, Covelli was quick to respond with help, King said. And despite the success, Covelli and his wife, Josephine, who survives, ''never lost their warmth and ability to engage with anybody in a caring way,'' King said.
Over the years, Covelli donated millions of dollars to hundreds of charitable organizations and started the commitment of Covelli Enterprises to the U.S. Marine's Toys for Tots programs. The business has been the largest local sponsor of the program, donating more than $500,000 in the last 25 years.
Another target of his generosity, John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, through a recently created scholarship fund in Covelli's name, will award $5,000 college scholarships to 10 JFK students each year.
He leaves, in addition to his wife and son, a daughter, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.