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Alfred "Al" Robert Ghelfi

September 6, 1939 — June 1, 2024


On the morning of June 1, 2024, Al Ghelfi breathed his last surrounded by family, crying and laughing to a soundtrack of Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, The Platters, The Drifters, and The Beatles. All present were happy that he left the world as he’d lived, keeping everyone up far past their normal bedtime. 

Al Ghelfi was born on September 6, 1939. He was raised in the Chicago area with his older brother, Gerald, and his younger sister, Darlene. His parents taught him to keep his nose clean and his hands in his pockets. He rarely heeded the advice. Al left Chicago for Phoenix when he was 13, riding in the back of a fully-loaded pickup truck in the middle of July. Other than a one-year aborted attempt at college in Southern California, he lived in and loved Phoenix for the rest of his life. He met Jan Zappia when he was 15-years-old and they got married on his 20th birthday so he wouldn't forget his anniversary. They began an epic relationship that would last forever, producing four sons who continue his legacy of humor and integrity.

Al was the leader in his family. Their first son, Bob, was born in 1960, followed by Brent in 1961, Gregg in 1966, and JD in 1969. Each of his four sons talk about the times when Al offered a quiet word of advice that changed the course of their lives. During his retirement, he spent 7 years answering one of his grandson’s nightly questions in the chat of their Words with Friends battles. When asked what makes a person great, he said, “The way they treat people who are less powerful.” He prided himself in raising his kids to be honest and set high standards for the way they treated others. His natural leadership was always on display, contagious for all four sons and his ten grandchildren. 

Al’s defining trait was his leadership. In 1965, he founded Cavalier Manufacturing in the back of his father’s lumberyard. Cavalier became one of the largest manufacturers of campers and travel trailers in the Southwest. When the gas crisis hit in 1972, Al rebuilt and retooled Cavalier into a manufactured home builder, changing the name to Cavco Industries in the process. His success in life and business flowed from the success of those around him. Al inspired an army of people willing to run through a wall for him. 

Ever the stoic, Al braved hardship with poise and optimism. “Life’s amazing, isn’t it?” he once asked his two eldest grandsons as they sat and talked late into the night. “You get your time to take your shot, and then—poof.” He smiled. “What a deal.” 

Al leaves behind his wife, Jan Zappia Ghelfi, and his sons, Bob (Marilee), Brent (Lisa), Gregg, and JD (Joey). He also leaves 10 grandchildren: Ryan (Natalie), Katie (Rick), Eric, Haley, and their mother, Julie; Brock and Jake; Emily, Zack, and their mother, Cynthia; Sofia and Jack; and 5 great-grandchildren, Laiken, Kylie, Alden, Hayden, and Jojo. His spirit lives on in their memories, their stories, and every aspect of their lives.

In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that any donations be made to St. Vincent de Paul
or to Hospice of the Valley
in Al’s memory.  

Private services have been held. 

May Al rest in peace, surrounded by the love and gratitude of all those whose lives he enriched. 
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Alfred "Al" Robert Ghelfi, please visit our flower store.
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