( Courtesy Joe Bernardi )

Al Bernardi, who helped established a Nogales, Ariz., brokerage as the area became a key link to imported produce, has died.

Bernardi died April 25 in Green Valley, Ariz. He was 92.

He first became involved in the industry through his family’s farm, and when his father died, he was responsible for the tomato crop in Madera, Calif. He also had a variety of jobs over the years, according to his obituary, including selling cars, driving delivery trucks, as a butcher and working with other growers.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he farmed in the Merced area, partnering with Tuttle Farms.

In 1969, a Florida buyer asked him to open a buying office in Nogales. That partnership, Ledlow, Cole & Bernardi, focused on tomatoes and other vegetables.

“Al loved the Arizona desert and loved the fast pace of the quickly growing produce business in Nogales,” according to the obituary.

He farmed in the summers until 1972, when the partners sold the land and packing shed. Bernardi later bought out his partners, and he opened up Bernardi & Associates with his son, Joe, in 1990. Joe Bernardi continues to run the company in Nogales.

“My father was a pioneer in the West Mexico produce business, and an innovator in the San Joaquin valley tomato deal,” Joe Bernardi said. “I am very proud to have had him as a father, mentor, and partner in Bernardi and Associates Inc. for the past 28 years.”

He was known for organizing fundraisers and dinners for groups including the local high school band, Sacred Heart Church and fire department. Al Bernardi and his wife, Joan Durniat, traveled extensively in their recreational vehicle.

Survivors include sons Joe and Allan, daughters Susan Bollinger and Lori Sutton, sister Nettie Pollicita, and stepdaughters Henriette Frisbie and Jeannie Schultz.

Funeral services are scheduled for June 11 at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in Green Valley, Ariz., and June 13 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Merced.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Kayla Bernardi BEE Positive Foundation, P.O. Box 307, Turlock, CA., 95382, or the Italian Catholic Federation Scholarship Fund Branch 39, P.O. Box 3693, Merced, CA, 95344.