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Friends fondly recall benefactor janitor

When he died last month at the age of 102, a Montana man fond of education and municipal bonds left a small college $2.3 million.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When Genesio Morlacci left $2.3 million to a small college here, many people were astonished at the wealth amassed by a man who operated a dry-cleaning shop and later worked as a part-time janitor in retirement.

But to those who knew Morlacci well, his bequest came as no surprise.

“He was a fellow who felt that if you didn’t need it, you shouldn’t buy it,” said Joe Marra, his former attorney. “Gene,” as he was known, wanted to help others obtain the formal education he never had, Marra added.

Morlacci died last month at age 102. The University of Great Falls has announced that his endowment will generate roughly $100,000 a year for scholarships at the Roman Catholic school, a quiet campus with about 800 students.

“He worked very hard for this, 18- and 20-hour days, and during each of those working hours he was doing something good for a student he will never meet,” university president Eugene McAllister said.

Morlacci, a widower, did not have any children. He gave the college nearly all he saved through work, investments and old-fashioned thrift — he was known to remove worn collars from his shirts, then sew them back on, with the frayed side down.

Other inspiring stories
On the rare occasion when a story like Morlacci’s pops up, people find it inspiring, explained Michael Solomon of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In 1995, offers of matching funds came into the University of Southern Mississippi after an elderly laundry woman — Oseola McCarty — announced she was giving $150,000 for scholarships.

Attorney Warren Wenz, who handled Morlacci’s affairs after Marra retired, said he asked his client if he wished to meet with officials at the University of Great Falls, but Morlacci declined.

He avoided anything that could be construed as putting on a show, Wenz said.

Morlacci believed the government and too many people spent beyond their means, Marra noted. “He was quite critical of the young people who needed, in his eyes, instant gratification,” Marra said.

Long days were the rule when Morlacci, an Italian immigrant, established Sun Cleaners in the late 1940s and operated it until the early ’60s.

In retirement, he briefly held a part-time janitorial job, but left when the university decided it needed full-time help, longtime friend Bill Foy said.

He remembers Morlacci as a man who enjoyed asking friends how many “miles” of spaghetti they wanted as dinner guests at his home. He loved tending roses and tomatoes in the yard of the simple house he bought after he sold the cleaners.

On the rare occasions he and his wife, Lucille, dined out, they chose budget restaurants, Foy said. Their one luxury was a couple of trips to Italy, he said.

Fondness for municipal bonds — and education
Foy remembers Morlacci donating money to various causes, including the campaign to restore the Ellis Island immigration depot in New York, through which a 19-year-old “Genesio Morl Acci” passed in 1921. His father operated a bar in a small town southeast of Great Falls, and Morlacci later went to California, where he learned dry cleaning.

As his wealth grew — investment adviser Tom Horton remembers a fondness for tax-free municipal bonds — Morlacci made loans to people in Great Falls, for homes and college.

In his six-page will he also left $5,000 to Our Lady of Lourdes School, and $500 to Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

As a widower, Morlacci lived in a retirement home that charged about $500 a month for meals, a room and housekeeping, choosing that over an upscale senior complex. Later, suffering Alzheimer’s disease, he moved to the nursing home where he died.

Morlacci’s obituary, an efficient 165 words, noted the 46-year duration of his marriage, his love of gardening and “a passion for education.”