Alva Rossi had an annual joke he would break out every time the South Windsor Rotary celebrated his birthday.
“This is the oldest I have ever been,” Rossi would quip to his fellow Rotarians.
Sadly, when Aug. 16 rolls around this year, Rossi will not be there to deliver his well-worn joke. He passed away at the age of 85 on Jan. 22.
About 50 family members and friends gathered at Wapping Church on Monday to celebrate the life of South Windsor’s own Horatio Alger.
The clear take away from the service was that Rossi’s life was one that was well-lived.
Indeed, out of all the terms used to describe Rossi, the one that appears most apt is “Renaissance Man,” which was used by his daughter Karen during a telephone interview.
“He was a student of life,” Karen Rossi said.
Alva Rossi was, among other things, a master welder, a coin collector, a lover of nature, an entrepreneur, a hunter, a marksman, a dedicated family man and a good and loyal friend.
“We will carry you and your jokes with us forever in our hearts in the Rotary,” Gen. James Throwe said during the service. Throwe recalled how Rossi had an alter ego named “Luigi Bonapasto,” and a fake uncle “Guido” who was a billionaire despite only knowing three words of English. But they were an important three: “Stick ‘em up.”
As sharp as his wit was his talent as a welder. He started, owned and operated AMK Welding in South Windsor for over 30 years, developing such a highly specialized technique that he was called upon to work on some of the most important and difficult (not to mention, in some cases, classified) jobs in the country.
In the late 1980s, Rossi helped weld oxygen bottles in space packs for the aerospace industry, according to one of his former employees Steve Medwid.
Medwid, who still works at the company after it was acquired by Dynamic Materials Corporation when Rossi sold the business over a decade ago, said that AMK workers were asked to do many specialized jobs for large companies such as Hamilton Standard, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.
“If they couldn’t fix something, they would send it to us and we would fix it,” Medwid said in a telephone interview. “We would save them thousands of dollars.”
But as specialized and challenging as the work was, Rossi created a family environment at the company, giving many young welders an opportunity to learn the craft properly.
“When we called around to tell welders who worked for him previously that he had died, they were saddened,” Medwid said. “But they were also grateful for the opportunity Al had given them to learn to be a high-quality welder.”
Rossi’s story is truly one of the examples of the American dream. A first-generation son of immigrants, Rossi entered the Navy at the end of World War II, received an honorable discharge without having ever shipped out and set about to learn a trade.
He eventually made his way back from the Midwest to Connecticut, where he was hired and fired from several welding jobs. Throwe said that Rossi would claim that he had experience on the job application when, in fact, he did not.
When the truth was learned, Rossi would be dismissed, but he would have gained a little more experience until, after a few of those events, he was finally hired by Pratt & Whitney in the experimental welding division in the 1950s.
There he began to work with rare metals - stainless steels and specialty alloys and high-tech alloys - that were extremely difficult to work on, Karen Rossi said. But Alva Rossi approached such problems creatively.
“He would always say, ‘We’re going to Mickey Mouse this thing,’ meaning he was going to try and circumvent how things were normally done,” Karen Rossi said. “That is how he approached life.”
Never one to settle and determined to work for himself, Rossi eventually started a welding business in his garage in 1964, according to Karen Rossi.
Just two years later, Alva Rossi opened his own shop - AMK Welding - on Sullivan Avenue. A few years after that, Alva bought a parcel of land and a building with his own money at another Sullivan Avenue location when he could not secure financing from a bank. From there, the business expanded several times and eventually grew to have over 20 employees.
“Dad never wanted to be a manager,” Karen Rossi said. “But he had a unique ability to find treasure and talent in his employees.”
As much as he loved a good challenge at work, Alva Rossi loved coins. Karen Rossi said that Alva’s employees knew how to distract Alva - by strategically placing coins on the shop floor that would eventually lead to Karen’s work area (Karen, an artist, had a work station at AMK after she graduated from college).
Alva Rossi used to advise friends to hold on to pennies that were minted prior to 1983, as they contain copper and were worth more.
But most of all, Alva Rossi was a family man through and through to wife Peggy and his three daughters Karen, Beth and Linda.
He loved taking the family on camping and hunting trips.
Karen recalled at the church service how Alva would entertain the family’s children during ferry rides out to New Brunswick by surreptitiously dropping coins on the deck for the kids to scoop up.
“We were rich by the time we got to Canada,” Karen said.
Karen tearfully concluded something that all the mourners were feeling.
“We’ll all be missing dad,” she said. “If you see a coin in South Windsor, let it give you pause. The next one you come across, find a way to put a smile on someone’s face. Then you will carry on dad’s legacy.”