Ferrufino arrived in Denver around 40 years ago from Bolivia. As a new American, with an already established sense of community and strong ethics, he worked 7 days a week putting in 14 hour days to build up a furniture store business that primarily marketed to Hispanics - who were also new Americans - trying to prove themselves in an unfamiliar but promising land.
As Zee rose to success as a business leader, he always made time to help others and get involved in charity and civic work. Zee started a family and began building his empire which included buying KBNO Radio – the leader in Denver’s Hispanic speaking radio stations.
In 1989, Ferrufino and his family got the worst news of their lives, the youngest Ferrufino son, Robby, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Zee was told that his 10 year old child would only live for a few more months.
Ferrufino recalls: “Those were the worst moments of my life. I stopped going to Mass, I lost my faith and abandoned my religion.”
What turned out to be an inspiration - and helped Zee find his way again - was the great courage, faith and patience brave little Robby showed as he endured his terminal illness.
Robby Ferrufino, claimed by cancer that same year, was known for giving away gifts brought to him to the other sick children at Children's Hospital.
After Robby’s death, his family created a memorial fund and a charitable organization that bears his name – “Robby’s Friends.” And so the moving expression that guides “Robby’s Friends” came to life: “Some Children come into our lives, touch our hearts, and we are changed forever.”
Since 1990, “Robby’s Friends” has provided many quality recreational activities for pediatric cancer patients and their families. By being a family-oriented organization, the entire family reaps the benefits of mutual support, relaxation, and the sharing of fun. The family activities include trips to Breckenridge and the YMCA of the Rockies to relax, play and “make memories” - a welcome respite from doctors, tests and treatments, not to mention the stress of everyday life.
Robby with his optimism, enthusiasm, and generosity taught everyone so much about living each day to the fullest. Robby to the very end of his young and special life, made it his goal to “find more fun things to do for kids with cancer."
Now in Robby’s honor and memory there are holiday parties at the Childrens’ Museum and countless ball games and picnics for the kids. “Robby’s Friends” also started the “Blue Print for a Better Holiday” a number of years ago to help families that could not afford gifts for their children. “Robby's Friends” purchases, wraps and delivers gifts to needy families according to their wish list. The “Robby’s Friends 6th Annual Halloween Bash,” held this year on October 28th, had its highest attendance ever.
These families have already been through a lot. Not all of the kids are going to make it - that's the painful, heart-wrenching part of it.
In addition to his deep dedication to “Robby’s Friends,” Zee works diligently as a leading advocate in the Hispanic community focusing on issues such as education, economic development, and civil rights.
What stood out the most meeting Zee Ferrufino was what a decent person of high integrity and principle he is. He’s a man of strength who is a role model to all that aren’t afraid to work hard to achieve their dreams.
Zee Ferrufino believes strongly in the existence of a higher power and the great responsibility we all have to be caring, giving human beings. As Zee put it best: “I’ve always been a believer that one person can make a difference.”
How are things going with the “Robby’s Friends” organization you founded? The organization is growing in strength and numbers. We have a number of successful fundraisers throughout the year that have been very helpful to us.
How has the organization evolved since its inception? It has become one of the most recognized grass roots organizations when it comes to helping children and families who are facing cancer. We are not the biggest, yet we remain very active in the community. We enjoy the help of many kind volunteers that allow Robby’s Friends to make a real difference in the lives of so many kids.
What do you read often to stay informed? I read local and national newspapers, read magazines and watch news shows on TV.
What book has most impacted your life? There were many, The Bible, Don Quixote, “100 Anos de Soledad” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
You are such a talented individual; what talent do you wish you had that you don’t think you have? I really don’t know, maybe to be more patient in life. Sometimes I am so driven, that I forget to enjoy life.
What can each one of us do to make this a better world to live in? Remember that we all live in the same planet and that any contribution can make a difference in life. This is why volunteering is so important.
How would you describe your childhood? Good and happy.
If you found a treasure chest, what would you want to be in it? Let me think… The answer to the most pressing needs facing humanity today, a little bit of money and to know who killed JFK.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met? President Bill Clinton.
What one word would describe you life right now? Joy – I am enjoying life today.
What surprises you about yourself? My drive and self-discipline.
What is the most important lesson you have ever learned? Giving is better than taking, it is more fulfilling.
You are a very astute businessman, what do you think is the next big investment opportunity? There are many, but I would like this country to invest in education. China and India are the next big challenges for the United States, and if we don’t take them seriously, we’ll end up losing the battle for the 21st century. We need to educate our youth to guarantee a better future.
What is your favorite sport to watch? To play? Soccer, soccer, soccer.
What kind of things would you do if you had a lot of spare time? Travel and embrace my family more. Owning a business takes a toll on your family and personal life.
What topic are you most opinionated about? Politics in general.
What is your proudest accomplishment? Having achieved success in life as an immigrant and been blessed with a wonderful family.
What do you think is the key to a good relationship? Reciprocity, communication and respect.
What made you choose Colorado as your home? I love the mountains, I come from a country that is surrounded by mountains, and Colorado reminds me of my home in Bolivia.
Where else would you like to live? Do you plan on living in Colorado forever? If God gives me a chance, I’d like to return to South America one day.
Finish this sentence: Zee Ferrufino is the champion of -------- Hard work and commitment, it never fails!!
What’s in the future for Zee Ferrufino; what do you still hope to accomplish? To some day represent this beautiful country as an ambassador in Latin America.
How would you like to be remembered? As someone who never gave up, who took challenges in life with the confidence that hard work brings.
Zee Ferrufino’s Special Honors & Awards: Member of the Colorado Baseball Commission; Recognized as the “American By Choice” by Governor Lamm in 1977; Outstanding Business Person in 1983 by the Minority Business and Professional Directory; Selected by Governor Romer to the International Business Development Committee; Received the “Advocate of the Year” by the Small Business Administration; Received a special Congressional proclamation by the U.S. Congress for his achievement and community work in the State of Colorado; Zee was the recipient of the Daniel Ritchie “Ethics in Business Award;” Mr. Ferrufino is a founding member of the Colorado Hispanic League.
Zee’s Community Involvement: Founder of the West 32nd Avenue Businessmen’s Association; Colorado Hispanic Media Association; Past Board of Director - North Denver Coalition for Better Schools; Robby Ferrufino Memorial Fund (helping children with cancer) Founder; Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation - Past Board of Directors; The American Hispanic Owner Radio Association – President; Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce - Past Board of Directors; Colorado Delegate to White House Conference on Small Business; SBDC National Advisory Board of Directors; Cherry Creek Arts Festival - Past Board of Directors; Colorado State Fair Authority Board of Commissioners; American Red Cross Board of Directors; Hispanic Chamber of Commerce – Co Founder/Board of Directors; Founder – Hispanic Coalition to Educate Community about Hepatitis A and Diabetes; Board Member – ACE (Alliance for Choice in Education) $4 million in scholarships for minority students; Denver Zoological Foundation-Board of Trustees; Denver Health, Board of Directors.