This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
When Jose Morón, known as Fredo, first came to the United States from Mexico at 18, the only word he knew in English was “cheeseburger,” and he ate a lot of them. He was working construction jobs in Texas and would escape the relentless heat by going to restaurants and giving the same order, day after day.
His job was tiring, the pay meager and the climate brutal. Mr. Morón (pronounced more-OWN) had larger ambitions.
Decades later, swaths of upscale neighborhoods and low-income housing across Chicago display iron gates, metal stairwells and window bars installed by Mr. Morón and the employees of the company he founded, New Town Iron Works.
He was proud of the mark he had made. “We would go out and drive around,” Luisa Mendoza, Mr. Morón’s partner of 28 years, said. “He would say, ‘Oh, look, I did this,’” pointing to the fruits of his labor. “It was just beautiful work.”
Mr. Morón died on June 16 at University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. He was 54. Ms. Mendoza said the cause was respiratory failure and pneumonia brought on by Covid-19.
Jose Alfredo Morón was born on July 7, 1965, to Elias Morón and Amparo Herrera in Morelia, Mexico, in the Pacific Coast state of Michoacán west of Mexico City. He went to Chicago in the mid-1980s after being offered a job at his uncle’s welding shop, then enrolled in English-language courses and at a trade school to perfect his craft. To earn extra money, he worked for Amtrak as a track maintainer.
Mr. Morón left Amtrak and the welding shop in 2005 to establish New Town Iron Works, and he quickly acquired clients, who came to admire his dedication and skill. He fostered intense loyalty among his workers and taught them the trade. He had three full-time employees, but he would offer part-time work to anyone who came to him in need.
Mr. Morón also helped others outside of work. Several of Ms. Mendoza’s friends were the victims of domestic violence, and Mr. Morón would put them up in his home for as long as necessary.
In addition to Ms. Mendoza, he is survived by his brothers, Manuel, Rafael, Lino and David; his sisters, Emelda, Angeles, Etelvina, Rosa and Lourdes; two stepchildren, Angela Lopez and Richard Reyna; a son, Samuel Mendoza; and two step-grandchildren.
Mr. Morón delighted in making his signature dish, ceviche, for his family. A fan of Spanish-language soap operas and a music lover, he met Ms. Mendoza after a concert. He was leaving the hall when he encountered her — she had left through the wrong door and gotten lost — and kept her company until she was able to locate her friends. The two parted ways, but not before Ms. Mendoza gave Mr. Morón her phone number.
Mr. Morón closed New Town Iron Works in mid-March out of concern for his employees’ safety during the coronavirus pandemic. By the end of April, reports of the city’s imminent reopening coupled with mounting financial pressure led Mr. Morón to reconsider.
“That same week he opened up, he got sick,” Ms. Mendoza said. “He was always helping and trying to help others.”