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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Elmo Morales, owner of Elmo's T-Shirts

When: April 4, 2024

Elmo Morales, 1990
Elmo Morales at his store on Main street, 1990. (Photo by Grover Sanschagrin)

In this episode, AADL Talks with Elmo Morales, owner of Elmo’s T-shirts, currently at 17 Nickels Arcade and previously at a long-time storefront on Main Street. Elmo came to the University of Michigan in 1964 on a track scholarship and has lived here ever since. He recalls his time at U-M; his 30-year career as a physical education instructor with the Ann Arbor Public Schools; how he helped start the Ann Arbor Track Club and turn the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run into a popular community event; and some of his other business ventures over the years.

Transcript

  • [00:00:09] AMY CANTU: Hi, this is Amy. In this episode, AADL talks to Elmo Morales. Elmo owns and operates Elmo's T-shirts, now at 17 Nickels Arcade and previously at a longtime storefront on Main Street. He came to the University of Michigan in 1964 on a track scholarship and has lived here ever since. He talks with us about his 30-year career as a physical education instructor with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, how he helped develop the Ann Arbor Track Club and the Dexter Ann Arbor Run into popular or community events, and some of the other business ventures and events he initiated over the years. You grew up in New York Washington Heights, is that correct?
  • [00:00:48] ELMO MORALES: Yeah.
  • [00:00:49] AMY CANTU: Can you talk a little bit about your childhood, and what brought you to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:00:54] ELMO MORALES: I grew up in Washington Heights. It was a very mixed neighborhood, I remember that. All nationalities and ethnic groups in my block. I was at 182nd Street, which is two blocks away from the George Washington Bridge. It was the main thoroughfare between New Jersey, Manhattan, and then onto the Bronx. There were lots and lots of very -- like a high street with a lot of activity. Lived right across the street from the elementary school in a fifth-floor apartment building where outside my window, I could see into my fourth-grade classroom. When I was sick, I could see what was happening in the classroom, I could look across. On the corner of that was the police station. Police station with all the officers being friends with us and right across the street, the playground, the elementary school, I felt I had a really good safe early growing up. My high school years were at the school that's no one's a Tower of Power, 5,280 students. As many students as they are, feet in a mile. I excelled in academics as well as in the sport of track and field, enough to earn me a scholarship to the University of Michigan. On August 24, 1964, I get off a taxi at the Michigan Union, and I was wearing a suit even though it was really hot, I was wearing a suit and tie because I was a grown-up, I was in college. I said, I'm here. I'm finally in college. I came on a track scholarship and had four wonderful years of athletic accomplishments and academic. I was a pretty C plus B student because I finally figured out that I don't have to conquer any big hills. I'm going to get to graduate school anyway. I was very fortunate that I didn't have parents on my back saying, you got to have a four point. You got to get A's. I took the approach of a broad education. Instead of deep, I went broad. I took many different classes, all kinds of classes. It was because I was on scholarship that had allowed me to do that. I could drop and add classes by the deadline was two or three weeks into the semester and I could get books. I didn't have to worry about paying for books and so on. I was really interested in a broad education. Partly it's because growing up in New York City, the culture there, going downtown, window shopping, parades, theater, a lot of cultural rich life there too. That's what I got out of when I was here in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:04:02] AMY CANTU: Can you talk a little bit about the track and field work that you did and the program--the athletic program at that time? What was it like?
  • [00:04:10] ELMO MORALES: Well, Don Canham of renown, he's the fellow that filled the Michigan Stadium with 100,000 people. He was a marketer, and as a track coach was well known for a certain style of training, was called interval training. He had learned that in Europe and in the 40s and 50s. In the early 60s, he was known for creating champions. I actually didn't know a thing about him. When I got the call from my coach at in high school, Hey, this guy wants to talk to you. He says, Hey, you want to come to school here? I said, well, who's this? This is Don Canham from University of Michigan. Do you want to come to school here? he says. I said Sure, why not? He says, I'll give you everything books, tuition, everything. Just sign on a dotted line. I said, Sure. I had many offers from lots of different colleges, and they all had wanted me to come. We'll show you around campus. We'll see, even get you a job to pay for your education. Don Canham said, Hey kid, you want to come to school here? Sign on a dotted line you're in. What else can a kid from New York City want?
  • [00:05:30] AMY CANTU: Exactly.
  • [00:05:32] ELMO MORALES: While I was here back then, we had a freshman ineligible rule. Freshman could not compete. We trained. It was disheartening because after a very high competitive high school experience where we excel. We were national champions. We had national records. You wanted to keep that going. Then there was, like, a break you stopped. That year, we did no competition other than just training and competing against our own teammates. Come sophomore year, we get into competition. I made it into the finals of the Big Ten championships indoor championships. That night, I caught a terrible cold, and I was really coughing a lot. This is when I actually bonded with my coach because he came in, and he heard me coughing. He said, I'll be right back, I'm going to give you some medicine. On the way out, the fellows in the room next door were making lots of noise because they didn't make it into the finals. They had nothing to do but fool around and have fun. I remember him yelling at them, saying, You guys shut up. He made the finals. He's the only one who made the finals, so you shut up. I said, My God, my coach is behind me like that. The medicine he gave me fixed me up. I went into the race all ready to go, but it dehydrated me. I faded fast. I was leading, and I faded fast at the end.
  • [00:07:05] AMY CANTU: What was your specialty like?
  • [00:07:07] ELMO MORALES: I was a half-miler. In high school, half mile and quarter mile. That's just a memorable thing, sophomore year. Then we had a wonderful experience. We went on spring trips to Kentucky and Illinois and all the Big Ten schools. I've been to all the Big Ten schools through the tracks. It was a really broadening experience. Had wonderful teammates from all over. Jamaica, Texas, California, Canadians, guys from Ireland. We had a really well rounded representation there, athletes and we were very successful, but we weren't so successful to win big championships because at the same time other schools were getting really good, too, like Michigan State. They whipped us in everything, they just happened. That was the year that they were really strong in football and all those athletes were also track athletes. The diamond were shot putters and discus throwers, the half-backs were also sprinters and hurdlers, every year we'd go up against these guys and they'd whip us. Anyway, come senior year, there's a new event in the Big Ten called the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. It was an Olympic event but yet not an event in the Big Tens. He took about 10 of us half milers and he made us run a mile over the steeple chase hurdles, those are the hurdles that don't give, if you hit it you go down, the barrier doesn't go down. He just watched us and at the end he said, You and you are going to represent us in this new event called the 400-meter intermediate hurdles in the Big Tens. I felt honored that he'd pick me and so for the rest of that year I got a coach, personal coach and that was Red Simmons, well-known coach, who had done the hurdles himself and so he coached me on hurdles. I learned the hurdles, I did my regular half-mile workouts and then afterwards I did my hurdle training. Well, first meet, Ohio State Jesse Owens relays, I did second lane, I ran that race and I got second place. I jumped up in the air and said, I'm going to be a Big Ten champion, this is great, I'm going to be a big champion. I never improved from that day on. Turns out, you need more than one season to become a champion, plus I found out that I was short. All the other guys were long and they could hit the strides perfectly and I had to have extra strides in order to get to those things. I felt I took one for the team, I gave that best to get because we needed points to win championships and so on. That was very memorable in my senior year, another thing is that I became the president of the varsity club, that's the Letterman's Club. There was a policy of no women on the field, it was an unwritten policy but there were no women cheerleaders, just men, no women band members, no women athletes. And we thought this was unfair. We decided to do a non-violent demonstration and we stormed the field with our girlfriends and we escorted Doc Losh, who was a physics astronomy teacher, across the field up into the stands where the athletes sat. We actually brought out that big banner that said Go Blue M Club supports you. We had athletes from all the teams there and it was a really heavy banner at the time because it was canvas and it was paint. You had a couple of hundred pounds of paint on that banner and the wind was blowing and all these strong guys were holding it up. It was amazing that there was no photo of that event in the Daily, Michigan Daily. I have not been able to find any mention of that day. However, I did take a picture and this picture has all the coaches, all the athletes in it, all the famous people in it except I wasn't in because I was taking the picture. That was a statement about us. The second thing that I did as president is that we had complaints from athletes that they weren't getting letters, letter sweaters, letter jackets, or other amenities that the scholarship athletes were getting. This was mainly these football players who they were known as the scout team and they're the ones that put on the opponents' uniforms and they get beat up by the varsity, by the A team. After practice they just go home, they don't get any meals and they don't get any jackets, any rings, nothing as if they were part of the team and we thought that was unfair. That was a political thing that as president of the Varsity Club, I brought up to the administration. We lost that battle, the coaches said, No, I'm not letting anybody tell me who I can give a letter to or not, but at least we mentioned that, we recognized that.
  • [00:12:49] AMY CANTU: What year was this?
  • [00:12:51] ELMO MORALES: '67, '68.
  • [00:12:53] AMY CANTU: There was a lot of protests and demonstrations going on.
  • [00:12:56] ELMO MORALES: Exactly that was the time.
  • [00:12:59] AMY CANTU: What was the result of the women on the field issue, then, did that...
  • [00:13:05] ELMO MORALES: I said, it wasn't mentioned in Daily that we can find out, but I think in '74 there was the first time there was a women's team I think it was a softball. Then the track team and that's where Red Simmons came on as coach for them. Then Don Canham's daughter, Claire Canham who was a cheerleader at Pioneer High School came on and I think she said, Daddy, how come we don't have women's cheerleaders? I think Don was instrumental then in to trying to get representation by women in the athletic department.
  • [00:13:40] AMY CANTU: Great. Well, that's a great legacy to have.
  • [00:13:44] ELMO MORALES: That's my track...But my academic things were just great too, I was part of a special program called the M Block Program with Shirley Cooper, Professor Cooper. There was an emphasis on humanity in education and Humaneness, I think that's what it was, Humaneness -- about inclusion of all kids -- and I was in physical education, even though I had broad classes and everything, anthropology, biology, genetics, music appreciation, biology, zoology, physiology. This one chemistry course short of being eligible for med school, I had a broad exhibition, even though I was just a Phys Ed major which was wonderful because I got to meet all the coaches. Back then, the coaches were actually professors in the School of Education and they taught us. I learned football from Bump Eliott and baseball from Benedict and Murphy from the tennis and Don Canham of course in track and it was just a wonderful experience. I actually started out wanting to be an engineer and I had a class freshman year in calculus with a woman who could not speak English. We'd turn around and we'd say, What the heck is going on? That was my point of diversion from wanting to be an engineer, I only wanted to be an engineer because I think when I was a little kid, went to a movie and I saw this film about the City of Brazilia being created and I saw these big earth movers and these guys with white hats and I asked my mom, What are those people? She says, Those are engineers. That's why I wanted to be an engineer and all that. But, luckily, a counselor said "You really ought to do something else." We tried the School of Education and we got into physical education and as it turns out, it was fantastic because it was my personality, and this is what I really wanted to do.
  • [00:16:00] AMY CANTU: How quickly did you start working for the Anrbor Public Schools or did you work somewhere else first?
  • [00:16:06] ELMO MORALES: No. I graduated and I became a substitute teacher because there wasn't enough positions open at the time. I think for about six months I was a substitute teacher teaching all curricular areas. Then when a position opened up, Scott Westerman was the superintendent at the time and he increased the allotment of time for physical education. Back then, it was only one-half-hour a week. We went to hours a week. Then also the men taught the boys and the women were taught by the girls. The girls were taught by women phys ed teachers. A year after that, they changed and you taught both genders and that meant that a teacher didn't have to move around from one school to the other. They could stay more at one school and that's when jobs opened up and so on. I got a job and it was in 1969 and teaching elementary school, and a couple of years after that, I became interested in moving up to the middle school because middle school is a new concept back then. I got it to Clague Middle School and because it was a middle school and not a junior high school, it had money in the budget that instead of going to football, I could use in the phys ed program. I decided to buy gymnastics equipment because I think that was around 71, 72, and Olga Korbut was doing fantastic, and all little girls wanted to be gymnasts and also Title IX was happening and so I spent all that money on gymnastic equipment and for years and years and years, Clague was the only school that had gymnastic equipment. All the recreation department classes and gymnastics were held at that school.
  • [00:18:16] AMY CANTU: Oh, that's really interesting.
  • [00:18:17] ELMO MORALES: Yeah.
  • [00:18:19] AMY CANTU: Did you eventually persuade them to spread that to the other...
  • [00:18:22] ELMO MORALES: No, I couldn't do that.
  • [00:18:24] AMY CANTU: You couldn't do it.
  • [00:18:24] ELMO MORALES: No. Actually, I could do gymnastics, being a Phys Ed major and also, growing up in New York City we had playgrounds where we did stuff. They were high bars and parallel bars.
  • [00:18:39] AMY CANTU: Yeah.
  • [00:18:40] ELMO MORALES: I also visited California and I went to Muscle Beach. You've heard Muscle Beach?
  • [00:18:46] AMY CANTU: Sure, yeah
  • [00:18:47] ELMO MORALES: With all the athletes doing things there, understand and I'd learned things. I could teach kids simple things to do and be successful in gymnastics. Besides the tumbling aspects of it, it was a very hard class because back then, we had the contracts that we had to have 55 kids in the gym class.
  • [00:19:13] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:19:14] ELMO MORALES: The new concept of middle school was multi-grade and multi-gender in the classroom. We had six, seven, and eighth grade boys and girls in the class.
  • [00:19:26] AMY CANTU: In one class?
  • [00:19:27] ELMO MORALES: In one class.
  • [00:19:27] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:19:28] ELMO MORALES: Yeah, 55 kids in gymnastics, 55 kids in tennis, 55 kids in everything.
  • [00:19:35] AMY CANTU: Wow. So you were busy?
  • [00:19:37] ELMO MORALES: I was very busy. But, luckily, the kids knew that if we don't do what Mr. Moral says, it's going to be chaos. I had a lot of great cooperation for the kids, made many many friends.
  • [00:19:49] AMY CANTU: Eventually, you were exclusively at Community High School?
  • [00:19:54] ELMO MORALES: After a couple of years at Clague. Community High School did not have a phys ed program. I went over there one day and I said, here's a portfolio of the things that I've done, and I think you need a Phys Ed program and so the next year, they say, Hey, why don't you come on over here? I started there, and I stayed there for 25 years.
  • [00:20:24] AMY CANTU: That's a long time.
  • [00:20:24] ELMO MORALES: Yeah.
  • [00:20:25] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:20:26] ELMO MORALES: Yeah.
  • [00:20:26] AMY CANTU: Now, during your time, you started the Ann Arbor Track Club, and also were you the person that started the Dexter Ann Arbor Run or were you just part of a group? Can you talk a little bit about both of those?
  • [00:20:39] ELMO MORALES: Sure. After I graduated from Michigan, I continued to run and with a club known as the Ann Arbor Track Club. At that time, it was an elite group of athletes who were a national class and they would compete in high level, national championships and earn money. It was called pv monies. If we took a first, we'd get so much money. I took the third, we'd get so much money. Then that club that money came back to the club, and then we ran programs. We actually didn't run parties. We supported other athletes travel funds and things like that. Me being a teacher and me being a runner and me being part of that club says, we have to change the emphasis from being an elite club to be more community oriented. We started teaching jogging.
  • [00:21:37] AMY CANTU: When was this roughly?
  • [00:21:39] ELMO MORALES: See, the Dexter was 74, so it must have been 73 or so.
  • [00:21:46] AMY CANTU: Okay.
  • [00:21:46] ELMO MORALES: '72, '73. We actually started teaching a class and people come out and we have to learn technique and strides and pacing. Then we started having more and more people come out. He said, Let's have one night where we have some practice track meets. We call them fun runs. Where people were just going to test themselves. How fast can I run a mile in? How fast can I run 100 yards? How fast can I do these things just for their own self knowledge? Not that they're going to beat anybody. We get lots and lots of people, so it was Wednesday night and we got over 300 people at one point. Lots and lots of kids. Lots and lots of kids. People were trying every event just to see what they could do, and that was the purpose of it. Then I got a call from a fellow Dave Peel, who wanted to have a long distance run in celebration of Ann Arbor's Bicentennial, Sesquicentennial.
  • [00:23:04] AMY CANTU: Sesquicentennial?
  • [00:23:05] ELMO MORALES: Sesquicentennial. Bicentennial is happening now.
  • [00:23:08] AMY CANTU: Yeah.
  • [00:23:09] ELMO MORALES: Sesquicentennial. He said, Why don't we get your club and my club and somebody else's club together and organize this event? We called it the Dexter to Ann Arbor Run, and we made a distance of 15 miles one mile for every 10 years for every 15 years. Whatever, do the math.
  • [00:23:32] AMY CANTU: Okay.
  • [00:23:35] ELMO MORALES: We started in Dexter, but from Dexter to Ann Arbor was only a certain distance, and we had to get 15 miles in. We extended it from downtown Ann Arbor to Huron High School, going east, and we still wasn't 15 miles. In Dexter, we started heading west for a certain amount. Then we turned around. Then we went all the way to Huron High School, 15 miles. Excuse me, that was the second year. I'm sorry, let's go back: The first year it was right to downtown. We went out west and came right to downtown. We had 159 people and there were so many people that weren't trained. It wasn't a thing. I could do 15 miles. You forget that it takes training to do something like that. We had lots of people.
  • [00:24:32] AMY CANTU: Who just didn't make it.
  • [00:24:33] ELMO MORALES: Didn't make it. They were vomiting on the side and so on. We finished that event and it ended at Larcom City Hall there. I remember my friends who were on the organized committee freezing. They didn't know what to do. All the success, all of a sudden, they froze. A friend of mine, Larry Steeb, who was part of the Manchester Track Club, said, "Come on, Elmo." We stood up on a car and we started calling out people's places and giving the medals and all that. I think that that's where they identified me as being the leader. The rest of the people for the second year said "I don't want anything to do with this, it's too much tension, too much drama." Well, Larry says, I got it. I can't be that. I became defacto the head of the Dexter and Arbor Run through the Ann Arbor Track Club. The second year is the one when we did all the way to here on High School, we made a big mistake. We started in the middle of the day when the sun was out. We didn't know much back then. Everything was new. We were the first to do things.
  • [00:25:56] AMY CANTU: But am I correct that there was sort of a national interest in jogging and running?
  • [00:26:02] ELMO MORALES: That started way back when Cooper's aerobics, and he wrote I forget Cooper's first name, wrote the book, Cooper Aerobics, and he quantified exercise for the health benefits. He got lots and lots of people jogging and walking. There was this craze out there. But people only were doing it in tracks. They weren't running in the streets.
  • [00:26:34] AMY CANTU: Got you.
  • [00:26:35] ELMO MORALES: Here is a small experience. The reason I was so successful in high school is because I trained outside the track. I trained in the streets with just my cover sneakers and my chino pants and my sweatshirt. I was running in the streets. Of course, running by a fruit stand or a jewelry store, the police would look at me kind of odd. However, after a while, they'd say that's that kid from that high school. He's okay. Running the streets wasn't the thing back then. Until I think Nike came out with shoes, and then people started wearing those shoes as part of their walk to work things, and it became... So then people got the idea that, you don't have to have a shower after you workout. You don't have to go to a club, you don't have to go to the track. You can just do it outside your door, and so on. Let me get back to what we were here for.
  • [00:27:29] AMY CANTU: Sure.
  • [00:27:29] ELMO MORALES: The Dexter... Then the club corrected things. We started the race earlier in the day. We also had several distances because we knew not everybody could go 15 miles. We had many different. We had a seven-mile and a one-mile because we were very community-oriented, like I said, from an elite emphasis to more community emphasis and service. We had all through the summer, the fun runs. We had the Dexter-Ann Arbor runs, and then throughout the year, we had events celebrating Halloween with the Pumpkin run. The Jingle Bell run for the Christmas season. I think that I've done over 500 events in my lifetime with the Track Club. I was president for about 30 years. We had a board of directors. They gave me leeway to do lots of things and they were wonderful people. We're celebrating our 50th year this coming June.
  • [00:28:37] AMY CANTU: I was just going to say. Congratulations, that's a great legacy. From what I've read, these events are what led you to your business. Can you talk about that a little bit?
  • [00:28:55] ELMO MORALES: T-shirts. We came up with the idea of giving somebody a T-shirt if they completed the event. T-shirts were only given to people who finished. This was an incentive for those people who wanted to quit to not quit. I had many people saying, but I got a cramp, but I couldn't make it, and so on. I said, sorry.
  • [00:29:23] AMY CANTU: No T-shirt for you.
  • [00:29:25] ELMO MORALES: No T-shirt for you. That's mean. I said, Next week, why don't you go and try it again? If you finish, you get your shirt. Getting shirts was a hard thing to do back then. It wasn't something that you can order and have printed and delivered. It was actually in those quantities. We had to order them directly from the mill in the South in South Carolina and we had to have them shipped by a freight, yellow freight trucks, and so on. We had a member of the club who was a printer. He said, "Elmo, why don't you come and help me out printing?" I think the second or third year, I remember staying up all late night helping him print the shirts for the next day's events. He said to me, "Elmo, I'm ready to get out of the business, why don't you get into the business?" As an elementary school teacher back then, every male that I knew had another job. I made $6,900 teaching, and that wasn't enough to feed a family. Either you had insurance, coaching, real estate, something to do to supplement your salary when you're teaching. I said, "Well, this could be something." Now, I was also an official at track meets. I was a starter, and that wasn't enough, though. I started getting into the screen printing business and started in my garage. Back then, there was no licensing with the University of Michigan, so I could print University of Michigan gear, and little by little, other clubs would come to me and we started out in my garage, then we went to a little store on Fourth Avenue, and then we grew from there to a little factory on Jackson Avenue, and then we got to the point where I was hiring people and that was just too much, and so I started backing down. Currently, I do pretty much all the stuff myself. I've got a retail store on Nickels Arcade. We have a store on Liberty Street, which we open up occasionally, and we have a printing shop on South Maple. That's where we are now. In between that we had the store on Main Street, which was, such a joy to be there.
  • [00:32:04] AMY CANTU: You were there for years?
  • [00:32:05] ELMO MORALES: Twenty-nine years.
  • [00:32:07] AMY CANTU: Talk about that a little bit. What happened there?
  • [00:32:10] ELMO MORALES: Well, it was a facility that I can both do printing and retail sales. That was the heyday of awareness that a T-shirt was something that people wanted.
  • [00:32:25] AMY CANTU: Political statements?
  • [00:32:26] ELMO MORALES: There was a canvas for a message, and so on. Then the graphics became really important too. Licensing had not happened yet, but all the rock bands were giving away t-shirts or selling t-shirts for $25. Wow, that's very expensive. People were paying for that.
  • [00:32:52] AMY CANTU: Sure.
  • [00:32:56] ELMO MORALES: So we became a specialty... I specialized in everything. I had 360 face-outs. You can go into my store and walk around and see every category of stuff. Besides the Michigan things, the cartoonish things, Looney Tunes and Grateful Dead things. World soccer, nations. We just had everything. Things were going really well. I was teaching, my uncle and my mom were at the store during the day and I'd go there after school. We decided to open up another little store on State Street, called Elmo's On State and I had some students working there, and it was very successful. But there was a point at which, again, I had to drawback. It was just too much.
  • [00:33:49] AMY CANTU: Yeah, you were spread out pretty...
  • [00:33:50] ELMO MORALES: Spread out.
  • [00:33:52] AMY CANTU: Just going back a little bit... When you were in Ann Arbor during the late '60s and early '70s, were you involved in any of the anti-war movement protests or sit-ins or teach-ins, or was that really not your interest or your scene?
  • [00:34:08] ELMO MORALES: When I was a president of the Varsity Club, I was very politically active in things that are happening on campus. I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I carried around with me interviewing people, and so on. I would join in on these marches, march to the president's house, and I have some pictures of me in the Michiganensian of me holding the cup to somebody. Here I am with my letter sweater and people looking at me, "Hey, you're a jock! How could you be doing this?" When Kennedy was assassinated, I was in high school. When Martin Luther King got assassinated, I was a senior year in college. All those things were and Vietnam War was going on. You couldn't help, but become aware. Many, many students were not involved. Their heads were in the books and me -- because I had a broad look on life and broad look on my education -- I was a lot more aware of political things happening and so on.
  • [00:35:19] AMY CANTU: One more thing I wanted to ask you about. I understand that you were friends with Karem Abdul-Jabbar.
  • [00:35:26] ELMO MORALES: Yeah.
  • [00:35:27] AMY CANTU: In elementary school?
  • [00:35:29] ELMO MORALES: Let's see. My first recollection of Lou. His name was Lew Alcindor back then in junior high school, some of us went out to have Chinese lunch, 85 cents for a great lunch. Once a week, we got together and we had lunch. When coming out of this Chinese restaurant, we looked across the street and we saw this tall figure was two feet above everybody else, and said, "Who is that?" That's Lew Alcindor, that basketball player. A friend of mine knew him. When we got to high school, we had a little club called the Social Colleagues. Our mission was to mix the races. But Martin Luther King came to my high school, and we shook hands with him, and he talked about him. In fact, I remember one day we had a math class test happening and the teacher says, "We're going to postpone this test. We're going down to the auditorium. There's a speaker there." We go down there, and I'm sitting there and I'm seeing this fiery speaker, and I say to my friend, "Who's this guy?" He gives me an elbow. He says, "Man, Elmo, don't you know that's Martin Luther King?" My eyes were opened up at that moment.
  • [00:36:53] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:36:57] ELMO MORALES: Then we started this little club called Social Colleagues, about 18 of us, and our aim was to mix the races so that they could know each other as people. We held dances in Harlem, and we invited the people from Westchester, a little North of Manhattan, to come down and we would meet him at the train station or the bus station and we'd escort him to where the party was. It was 99 cents to get in because we needed fundraising. The reason we had $0.99 is because if you paid a dollar, you had to pay the city some tax [LAUGHTER] Lew was in the club, and he was our bouncer and our sergeant of arms.
  • [00:37:46] AMY CANTU: Makes sense. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:37:48] ELMO MORALES: He had a roll of pennies in his fist in case anybody would get in trouble, he'd be able to knock him out. [LAUGHTER] That didn't happen.
  • [00:37:59] AMY CANTU: It didn't happen.
  • [00:38:00] ELMO MORALES: It didn't happen. But he was the person at the front door. We knew him through that club, and we got to be friends. All of us are friends, and we'd go to each other's houses for meetings. When we'd go to his house, we would listen to jazz music. He was heavy, heavy into jazz, and that's where I got introduced. I was heavy into opera before, because my uncle was an opera singer early on.
  • [00:38:25] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:38:27] ELMO MORALES: Went to the school, Jullliard School of Music and so on. He'd always come back and play music and, he'd explain to me about opera. But I got into jazz also. Not only that folk music was big back then, we'd go down to Greenwich Village, the Bitter End Night Club. I remember seeing one day this guy with funny hair -- real big -- and he sang kinda funny. I didn't know who it was. Come out to be, you know...
  • [00:38:56] AMY CANTU: Bob Dylan.
  • [00:38:56] ELMO MORALES: Yeah, exactly. I got the scholarship to Michigan and freshman year, Lew gets invited to come and be recruited by Cazzie Russell, who was then our basketball player. When he gets off the plane, he says, "I have a friend here, Elmo." The coach calls me up, and says, "Okay, so we take Lew around, we show him everything." He says to me, "I really want to go to the school out West." It was UCLA. You didn't say that says, I'm only here to be courteous to Cazzie Russell and so on.
  • [00:39:40] AMY CANTU: You didn't get him to come here, but...
  • [00:39:43] ELMO MORALES: Yeah. Who am I to tell him to do what to do? [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:39:45] AMY CANTU: Exactly. Were there any other activities or events in Ann Arbor that stick out in your mind that you'd like to talk about?
  • [00:39:54] ELMO MORALES: There's been so much in my life. My involvement in fundraising for the Peace Neighborhood Center?
  • [00:40:03] AMY CANTU: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
  • [00:40:07] ELMO MORALES: As a phys ed teacher at Community High School, we would host the Turkey Trot. That's one of the ones I forgot to say that Turkey Trot, and my forum group -- every teacher had a forum group of 20 students, so doing projects. And that was our project, and we'd help to host the Turkey Trot and earn money from that. We would divide the money between Peace Neighborhood Center and the St. Andrews Breakfast program right across the street from Community High School. We would actually get a check, and we would take a committee and we would actually go there and give the check to the people so that students would see where their money was going to, and so on. We did that for a good 25 years. I was doing T-shirts for big events like the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, with the Grateful Dead coming. It was gigantic. We had a big thing happening at Crisler Arena. We had big things happening at Gallup Park. I remember printing thousands of shirts in anticipation of people coming to buy them, and it was a dud.
  • [00:41:27] AMY CANTU: Oh, really?
  • [00:41:28] ELMO MORALES: Yes.
  • [00:41:29] AMY CANTU: Oh, no. Nobody wanted a shirt?
  • [00:41:31] ELMO MORALES: I lost my shirt. [LAUGHTER] I was giving a portion of the money to the organizers, and they said, "Where's my money?" [LAUGHTER] I said there wasn't any. There were thousands of shirts hanging around. I don't know what happened to those things. But I remember doing it for several years, helping the organizer with the printers. There weren't too many printers at that time. In fact, I think they were people looking at us and saying, "There's an opportunity, we can do it better than he can." [LAUGHTER] As technology came around, computers came around, different equipment, automatic type equipment, where you can do things in larger quantities with less effort. There was enough business for everybody, thank God. I concentrated more on the retail aspects instead of growing in the wholesale aspect of it and all that. I was connected with the music community. Concerts at Frog Island in Ypsilanti, Gallup Park, of course, West Park. It was a fun life like that. Being involved in the running aspects, the music aspects. Many years later, I also got into -- here's an aspect: My wife and I started a business called Bodies in Balance, and this was 1999, and it was spinning. I was injured and I couldn't run for a while. I went to this conference and I passed by this room and I saw these people with bicycles, and I went in there and nobody was around. I got on the bike and I started spinning around. I started pedaling.
  • [00:43:25] ELMO MORALES: I said, man, This feels really good. Somebody comes in, Hey, what are you doing? I said, well, I'm injured, but I'm not able to run, but I'm able to bike here. He says, well, that's why we made this bike. It's for people like yourself and all. I came home and I said, Hey, honey, this is really good. She says, It's just a fad. Don't worry about it. Next year, I go to that same conference and people there are much more successful, and it was called spinning. It's become a generic term but the name of the company was called Spinning, and so we went to California to their corporate headquarters, we looked at it, and so we were the first to bring spinning to Ann Arbor in 1999 and became instructors. My wife was an instructor. I was an instructor, and we had a space at the Old Technology Center where the Ann Arbor Y is now. I remember there was a big flood there, and so we had to get out of there and one day we just took the bikes outdoors and we had classes outdoors and got a picture in the paper and everything. It was great. So that business grew. We had that business for about 22 years. From there, we moved to a space on Ann Street where the Tibetan group was there. Now, it's a tea room now, and then we moved out to West Stadium behind Stadium Hardware for a few years and we had a really good business going. We help a lot of people who were aging and they couldn't continue to run, but they could do biking. But then COVID came. We struggled through COVID. When COVID was over, we tried to continue, but enough people didn't come. There wasn't a critical mass of people to come back to have a business. My students came back, but my other instructor's students didn't come back, so there wasn't enough people to pay the bills and so we finally had to get out of there. I have all those bikes in my garage right now. In the meantime, I started at ping pong business. It was called Elmo's Ping Pong Palace, and that was in Dexter. We had a wonderful space there. We had eight professional tables, and how I got into that is one day I went to conference, again, and I saw these people playing. That was in Grand Rapids at the big hotel there, and they were like 90 tables in this big gigantic room, and everybody was playing. I said, What's going on? Well, it's the national Ping Pong tournament. I said, I want to get into that. I came back, talked to my wife and said, yeah, let's start a business. The people there sold us eight tables at a really good price. We had them shipped to Ann Arbor. We had no space at the time but we just stored them until we found a space. When we first started, few people were willing to pay for playing ping pong. It wasn't like tennis where you'd pay big bucks to get in there. Pickleball wasn't around either at the time. But we serviced a lot of kids. Scout groups, after-school groups would come, lots of older people would come. It was very good, but it wasn't enough, again, $3,330 monthly rent just couldn't hack it. But Oxford Realty cut us a deal and lowered our rent significantly, but we just couldn't stay there either, and so on. So I have got those tables stored away too. I dabble in business, and it's because of just my interest in things. Things that appealed to me and because being a phy ed teacher and being interested in everything and curious about everything, you know, I do these things.
  • [00:47:29] AMY CANTU: It's a wonderful legacy. You started clubs, you were involved in many businesses and activities. So when you look back on all of that, what are you most proud of?
  • [00:47:39] ELMO MORALES: What a question. Well, I suppose it's the screen printing aspect of it because that provided for my family. I could do all these businesses. My salary from teaching went to my family and it was supplemented with the monies that I got earned in screen printing. That allowed us to have a lifestyle. We moved from a house in town to little house outside west of here, and provided a comfortable life for my family. I think that's... My children are all grown up now. It's a beautiful house and it was all provided by the sweat from screen printing in that business. The secondly is my involvement with the Ann Arbor Track Club, being president for 30 years and all that and the numerous people that I've met over the years and the friendships that I've gotten from that. I really really treasure that. We're still friends now. In fact, this coming 50th anniversary, we're having a dinner where everybody's been invited back. I'm really looking forward to that. Want to backtrack a little bit.
  • [00:48:57] AMY CANTU: Sure.
  • [00:48:58] AMY CANTU: My other proud thing is being a teacher. People know me as being an athlete, as being an entrepreneur, but teaching was seminal in my life and being at Clague Middle School and at Community High School and being allowed to do the things that I could do. Kids were not able to leave the classroom in the other schools, where we could leave the classroom and go outside. That was mind-blowing for a lot of the kids. That we did things outdoors. I helped people be comfortable with fitness and I have many many people who come back to me who says, "I remember your classes. I remember the weight training. I remember the running with it. I remember doing these things, including the days that I didn't feel like running away. I just went to the grocery store and had a coke and waited for you guys to come back." There are stories, lots and lots of stories. But being with Community High School, with wonderful staff, everybody committed to kids, everybody committed to treating them as adults, giving them freedoms, giving them choices, but still being in command. So that was a great part. That was really significant in my life, being a teacher. I still feel like I'm an educator. I had 14 different student teachers, tutelage under me. I'm still involved in the School of Kinesiology. They hit me up all the time for money. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:50:33] AMY CANTU: Well, thank you so much. AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.