June 30, 1936-January 13, 2021
Al Rossi was one of a kind. Born at home in Ouray, Colorado, on the morning of June 30, 1936, he was the beloved only son of Levy Lucy Zanella Rossi and John Simon Rossi. He was doted on by his two older sisters, Helen and Anna Mae, and a multitude of family and friends in Ouray. He was a real Mama’s Boy and Levy always said, “Alfred was perfect. He was always a perfect little angel.”
Al had an idyllic childhood in Ouray and enjoyed fishing, hunting, playing pranks, and working alongside his uncle, Henry Zanella, who owned the Cascade Grocery store. He was a lifelong member of the Elks Club and set pins in the bowling alley until he got too big to sit on the rack. Al had a life-long obsession with picnics and loved nothing more than packing up the car and heading out on an adventure. He loved spending time with his family and never met a stranger. He retained his residence in Ouray throughout his life and was still celebrating and picnicking with friends and family until he was no longer able to travel.
Al was an excellent student at the Ouray School and participated in many activities, including playing drums in the band, acting in school plays, and participating in student government. He served as the President of the Student Council and was Senior Class Vice-President. He loved any kind of competition and enjoyed playing baseball, football, and basketball for Ouray High School. Despite his small stature and horrible eyesight, Al was a very good basketball player and told exciting stories about the 1953 State playoffs. Many of these claims can be verified by visiting the Ouray County Museum where you can even view his report cards in the Ouray School display. Al graduated from high school in 1954 and always credited the teachers and staff there for preparing him for the successes that he achieved later in life.
Due to the guidance and encouragement of one of those teachers, Al applied to and was accepted to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He received a scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering and worked in the cafeteria and cleaning the physics labs to pay his room and board. In the summers, he worked at the Idarado mine in Ouray or as a plumber’s assistant in Chicago with his brother-in-law, Peter O’Dea. He worked very hard at his studies and in his various jobs, always following his personal motto of “Do your best.” He believed deeply in the power of education and provided support to all three of his children and three grandchildren to earn their degrees.
Al graduated from Washington University in 1959 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and went to work for the Navy in Oxnard, California, where he lived for five years. His first purchase as a full-fledged adult was a 1963 Austin Healey convertible. He loved that car so much and was always sorry he sold it when his kids were born. This may have been the only regret in his life, as he was an incredibly optimistic person.
On a business trip to Washington, D.C., in September of 1963, Al’s college roommate, Hank Eigles, talked him into a blind date with Hank’s friend. Hank drove Al to her house; when Al got out to go to the door, Hank drove off, and left him standing on the sidewalk. Al had to make a choice whether to go ahead and knock on the door or walk to the nearest bus stop. He said the best decision he ever made was to introduce himself to Cathie Bele, his future bride for over 56 years. Al and Cathie corresponded by letter and reel-to-reel tape sent through the mail, inventing social media dating long before it became popular. He even sent her engagement ring through the mail after she accepted his proposal over the phone.
Al and Cathie were married on June 20, 1964, in Washington, D.C. They went on their honeymoon to Huntsville, Alabama, where Al had secured a job as a rocket scientist at Redstone Arsenal. They have lived there ever since, joking that they were still on their honeymoon until the end. Al worked for the U.S. Army Missile Command for thirty years earning many commendations and awards for his service. He was a constant source of creative ideas and entertainment for his co-workers over those years and maintained those friendships long after his retirement in 1996.
Al and Cathie had three children, Richard, Elizabeth, and Mary, and the family loved their life in Huntsville and were active members of their community. Al was a guy who showed up. (You can see his Perfect Attendance school award in the museum for proof.) If he said he would do something, he always came through and usually went far beyond. He was an involved father and enjoyed coaching softball and serving as a Scoutmaster, even bringing his troop from Alabama to Ouray one summer to teach them how to be Mountain Men. He was a very devoted lifelong Catholic and became a daily Mass attendee after his retirement. He volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and CASA and was a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus.
He helped raise the money for and construct the Pope John Paul II Catholic High School in Huntsville. He was a Eucharistic Minister, served as a sacristan at weddings and funerals, and was in charge of many projects, including the recycling shed where he spent hours sorting and redeeming recyclables to provide the school staff with money for supplies.
Al was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2004 and was cured with many radiation and chemotherapy treatments. After many more years of productive life, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. Although he was very ill and eventually bedridden, he never complained and was always grateful to all his caregivers. He called Cathie “his angel” so often that many of his caregivers and hospice workers thought her name was Angel and then referred to her as “Mrs. Angel” through it all. After a long and difficult illness with Cathie always by his side, he passed away at his home in Huntsville on January 13, 2021. His ashes were inurned at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church columbarium in Huntsville.
Al was preceded in death by his parents, John and Levy Rossi, and sisters Helen Rossi O’Dea and Anna Mae Rossi Barker, who passed away just last November. Al is survived by his beloved wife, Kathryn Rossi of Huntsville, Alabama; son Richard Rossi of Simpsonville, South Carolina; and daughters Elizabeth Rossi Spatafora of Corvallis, Oregon; and Mary Rossi of Bellingham, Washington. He is also survived by his son-in-law and daughter-in-law Joseph Spatafora and Molly Foote; his three grandchildren, Anna Aucoin Spatafora of Denver, Colorado; Gioia Rose Spatafora of El Portal, California; and Nicolas Rossi Spatafora of Bend, Oregon; and six nieces and nephews and their families. Many cousins and friends still living in Ouray will miss his yearly visits.
Memorial donations in Al’s honor can be made to St. Daniel’s Catholic Church in Ouray, which Al and his father helped to build, the Elks’ Club scholarship fund, or the Ouray County Historical Society.
We finally have to agree with his mother Levy that, although Alfred wasn’t really perfect, he is now a “perfect angel” in Heaven.