WARREN - Devoted family man, decorated military veteran, business icon, civic leader and community philanthropist Albert Covelli passed away Saturday, May 3, 2014, at the age of 94 surrounded by his loving family.
Mr. Covelli was a brilliant, highly-skilled businessman whose philosophy for a successful life was to stay grateful, humble and focused on family. This philosophy guided him to one of the most prestigious business careers in the history of the Mahoning Valley.
Mr. Covelli was known for his dedication, his kindness and his compassion for people here and in Florida, where he made his home in the winter months. Mr. Covelli was a role model, a man of vision, integrity, honesty, ethics and commitment.
Mr. Covelli was the founder of Covelli Enterprises, the nation's largest franchise of Panera Bread and the fourth-largest restaurant franchise in the country. Previous to that, Covelli Enterprises was the largest franchise of McDonald's restaurants in the nation.
Born April 4, 1920, in Kenosha, Wis., Mr. Covelli was a decorated military lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. He began his business career by opening an open air market in Kenosha, which quickly expanded to three locations. He then founded a produce company and added a distributorship for frozen foods and dairy.
In 1959 Al, his beloved wife, Jo, and their children, Annette and Sam, moved to Warren to open up his first McDonald's restaurant.
In the nearly 40 years that followed, Covelli Enterprises became the largest franchise of McDonald's restaurants, opening 50 units in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In 1997, Al and his son, Sam, sold their interest in McDonald's and began franchising Panera Bread restaurants. Since that time, the company has become the largest franchise of Panera Breads with more than 250 locations in five states and Canada, and currently employs in excess of 25,000 people, which includes more than 2,000 people locally.
As a result of his success, Mr. Covelli received numerous awards and honors from business groups across the country, including recently being inducted into Central Florida's Hospitality Hall of Fame and being given the first ever Pioneer Award by Panera Bread for his innovation and accomplishments.
Mr. Covelli considered his customers to be part of his extended family. As a result, giving back to those people in the communities where he had restaurants was a way of life.
Through the years, he donated millions of dollars to hundreds of charitable organizations to support those in need.
Fueled by his love for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he was especially fond of charities focused on improving the lives of young people. He started the company's commitment to the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots program.
For the past 25 years, Covelli Enterprises has been the largest local sponsor of the program, donating in excess of $500,000.
He was a man of strong faith. He was an active member at Blessed Sacrament parish in Warren, and gave both of his time and treasure for the betterment of the church and diocese.
His generosity also extended to John F. Kennedy High School, where he was one of the primary contributors to many of the schools programs.
His legacy will live on at the school through a recently created scholarship fund in his name, which will award $5,000 per student to 10 students each year who show exemplary academic and leadership skills.
He was also a supporter of the University of Notre Dame through the Sorin Society, which provides help to deserving students in need to be able to afford attending Notre Dame.
For his generosity, Mr. Covelli received accolades by countless communities and charitable organizations over the years, including being honored with his wife as recipients of the 2013 Outstanding Individual Philanthropist Award by the Hibiscus Children's Center of Florida, and being recognized by the city of Winter Park, Fla., with "Al Covelli Day" in honor of his philanthropic contributions.
Mr. Covelli also had a long history of civic involvement, serving on numerous boards including the boards of banks, hospitals, universities and nonprofit organizations. He was instrumental in helping to start the Ronald McDonald House with his involvement on their planning board.
He served on the St. Joseph Hospital Board, the Board of Directors for Second National Bank, Warren Chamber of Commerce, president of the National Operators Advisory Board, president of the Northeast Ohio Advertising Co-OP Board for McDonald's, the Kent State University Board and many others.
Al will be deeply missed by his devoted, loving wife of 66 years, Josephine; his daughter, Mrs. Annette (Gavin) Ford; his son, Mr. Sam (Caryn) Covelli; his grandchildren, Mr. Kevin (Kerry) Ricci, Mrs. Lauren (Chris) DeVaux, Ms. Candace Covelli, Mr. Albert M. Covelli II, Ms. Danielle Covelli and Mr. Justin Ford; and his great-grandchildren, Alexandria, Barrett and Mackenzie Brody.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Hibiscus Children's Center, 2400 N.E. Dixie Highway, Jensen Beach, FL 34957; John F. Kennedy High School, 2550 Central Parkway S.E., Warren, OH 44484; and The Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, P.O. Box 66, Vienna, OH 44473.
Family and friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Blessed Sacrament Church, 3020 Reeves Road N.E., Warren, OH 44483.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be 11 a.m. Saturday at the church with The Most Rev. George V. Murry, S.J., Ph.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown officiating.
Arrangements are being handled by Peter Rossi & Son Memorial Chapel, 1884 North Road N.E., Warren, OH 44483.
Family and friends may visit www.peterrossiandsonfh.com to view this obituary, sign the guestbook and send condolences to the Covelli family.