60 Years Later, Elmo Morales Can’t Forget Westport

Earlier this month, Greg Wolfe and Nancy Lewis dropped their daughter Emily off for her 2nd year at the University of Michigan.

After dinner, the couple passed a tiny t-shirt shop near campus. As they looked at merchandise set on the street, the owner came out to chat.

Elmo Morales designed this t-shirt for Jim Harbaugh's return as Michigan football coach.

Elmo Morales designed this slogan for Jim Harbaugh’s return as Michigan football coach. (Photo/Ryan Stanton for The Ann Arbor News)

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Westport, Connecticut,” they said.

He was stunned. “You’re the first people I’ve ever met here from Westport!” he said.

And then Elmo Morales told his story.

In 1957 he was an 11-year-old living in Washington Heights. The Fresh Air Fund arranged a week in Westport. He stayed with the Petrucci family. They owned a liquor store, and had a son around Elmo’s age.

His eyes welled up as he told Greg and Nancy his story.

On the way home after picking Elmo up at the train station — with his clothes in a shopping bag — the Petruccis took him to a toy store. They told him to pick out anything he wanted.

He chose a Mattel 6-shooter. “I never got anything, except at Christmas,” he says. “And then it was pajamas.”

It was the first time Elmo had seen carpeting in a house, or a TV in a bedroom. There was orange juice every morning. Every day, they went to the beach.

Most importantly, Mr. Petrucci talked with Elmo about college, and what he wanted to do with his life. It was the first time the boy had thought about his future.

“They broadened my horizons,” Elmo says. “I was able to see the rest of the world. Everything grew from that little seed.”

Elmo went back to Washington Heights. A shared love of jazz cemented a friendship with a youngster named Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Elmo earned a track scholarship to Michigan. He stayed in Ann Arbor, and became a teacher.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

About 40 years ago, he opened Elmo’s T-Shirts as a sideline. For years it was on Main Street. Not long ago, he moved to East Liberty Street.

This is one of those great “Westport meets the world” stories I love so well.

But don’t just read it and smile.

Every year, Staples sends at least a dozen graduates to the University of Michigan. So, students and parents: Head to 404 E. Liberty Street.

Buy a t-shirt or souvenir.

And then tell Elmo you’re from Westport.

21 responses to “60 Years Later, Elmo Morales Can’t Forget Westport

  1. What a great story!

  2. Agreed, great story!

  3. Maybe they should have bought him a dictionary? JK, a very heartwarming story and testament to a generous spirit we can all learn from. Thanks Dan.

  4. Charlie Taylor

    Cool

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Margaret Mazer

    Touches the heart! Wonderful story!!!

  6. As the son of an Ohio State alum and a lifelong Buckeyes fan, even I enjoyed this story about a graduate of that school up north.

  7. Michael Calise

    Womderful Story!

  8. 65K per year and they still can’t spell “champions”!

  9. Lauren Barnett

    Great story!

    And I love that he said “Chanpions” 🙂

    Thank you!

  10. Dan:

    I may wish to read this on my What A Story! Radio show on WPKN —last Saturday of the month at noon. I would of course credit 06880.

    May I have your permission!

    Ina

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  11. Oops Staples… We all have typos in our lives…

  12. Susan Harrington

    Chanpions?  AM I missing something?

  13. Apparantly only a few of us noticed “Chanpions” or did we miss the “Joke”?

  14. The comments on the related Ann Arbor story caught the same typo: http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/12/jim_harbaughs_return_to_univer.html. Apparently it was not intentional.

  15. M is missing from word Champions.  Am I missing something?

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  16. Great story. Ann Petrucci was a member of my Bedford Elementary class.

  17. Spelling aside, a wonderful story. And Elmo sure looks great for his age.

  18. Dan–GREAT story. The community continues.

    If anyone stops by-please but me an XL T-shirt from his store. Will gladly with a huge smile pay you back.

    Bart

  19. Joyce Barnhart

    I’ve just finished reading the many, many, many (!) comments about the sign in the pickup truck in the Fresh Market parking lot. That post and this one illustrate that the apparent intent and spirit of something are much more important than errors in spelling or whatever. Elmo’s sign is positive. The pick-up trucker’s is negative. And, generally, the reactions to match the signs.