Friday, September 13, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tito Morelli, Immigrant Who Worked His Farm For More Than 50 Years

Tito Odorico Morelli, who died Monday at his farm near Redmond at age 94, was born in San Gregorio, Italy, and came to this country when he was 18.

He joined four brothers - Alfonso, Matleo, Martino and Silvio - who were traveling and working various jobs.

Mr. Morelli ended up helping build a railroad line through the Columbia River Gorge, at a time when the river still ran wild, before dammed water lapped at the riprap boulders that today bear steel rails.

Mr. Morelli didn't know English, but that wasn't a problem because there were other Italian immigrants on the crew.

At the end of his first day, he was somewhat disappointed to find stables of straw for sleeping, said his son, Dr. Tito T. Morelli of Kenmore.

Mr. Morelli asked a fellow Italian laborer about it. The man told him he was mistaken. The stables were for horses, in which the railroad had a financial investment. The men, they would sleep on the ground.

"This was his welcome to America," his son wrote in a remembrance.

Mr. Morelli soon volunteered for a better job, hauling water by wagon from the river up to the railroad crew. While the men worked in 100-degree heat, Mr. Morelli dawdled a bit - swimming, lying on the bank, taking in the scenery.

This went on for about a month. Then one day Mr. Morelli asked how it was he got assigned such a good task. He was told it was the rattlesnakes. The Columbia River's banks were infested with them.

In telling this story years later, Mr. Morelli pointed out that "ignorance could have its benefits," his son recalled.

Alfonso Morelli returned to the family farm in Italy. The younger brothers remained in America, but before long they decided the time between jobs was eating their savings - they weren't getting anywhere.

One of the Morelli brothers became acquainted with the daughter of a farmer near Seattle, and while the brother did not end up marrying her, in 1916 all four bought the farm - about 60 acres near what is now the intersection of 148th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 60th Street, on the outskirts of Redmond.

The four Morelli brothers each had a home on the farm, where they raised primarily chickens. The families were their own best neighbors for many years.

Tito Morelli, the last surviving brother, retired from the farm in the early 1970s. The family still holds a good deal of the land, which is now surrounded by suburbia.

In 1939, Mr. Morelli, intending to marry an Italian girl, visited his father in Italy. During the visit to San Gregorio, he became reacquainted with the daughter of a friend of the family. He had not seen Ida Paiola since she was a child. Now she was all grown up.

Eventually, he asked her to marry him. The next year she did so, but the invasion of Poland forced Mr. Morelli to return to the United States without her, at the prompting of the U.S. consulate, with hope that she could follow once her immigration papers were in order.

After much difficulty, she was finally permitted to leave. She traveled by ship to New York, where she boarded a train for Seattle.

"I thought I was going to the end of the world. Three nights and four days by train," Mrs. Morelli said. "What a change!"

Mr. Morelli, the youngest of nine children, had a formal education of second-grade level, said his son, but he was fascinated with science "and had a stack of philosophy books. He read extensively."

His curiosity evolved into inventiveness. He patented a muzzle-like device that prevented chickens from pecking each other to death, but a shortage of materials upon the outbreak of World War II prevented him from manufacturing it.

Mr. Morelli also was fascinated - one might say obsessed - with the notion of a perpetual-motion machine, in which magnets, he hoped, would generate unlimited electricity. He spent years on the project.

"Every night after his work he would be up until 1 or 2 o'clock," recalled his wife. "I would have to shake him. `When are you coming to sleep?' "

Mr. Morelli and his brothers were among the first to bring conventional electricity to the farm itself, as opposed to only the farmhouses, said his daughter, Tina Morelli of New York.

"It was virtually wilderness in those days," said Mr. Morelli's son. "There was no electricity. The brothers strung their own wire about a half-mile to electrify the farm."

Besides his wife, son and daughter Tina Morelli, Mr. Morelli is survived by another daughter, Anna Armstrong of Seattle, and two grandchildren.

Services were yesterday in Kirkland.

Memorial contributions may be made to Eastside Hospice, 12443 Bel-Red Road, Building 4, Suite D, Bellevue, 98005; or to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1124 Columbia St., Seattle, 98104.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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