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Early morning baking, singing and joking leave his family with many sweet memories.

Elmer "Elmo" Thompson hated to waste anything. He grew up poor and knew the ropes of scrimping.

When he saw leftover doughnut scraps at his shop, he cringed. The cost of sugar had surged. He couldn't bear to toss them in the trash.

So the inventive baker gathered the scraps of cinnamon apple pie turnover, cut them into tiny chunks, threw them in the fryer and dumped sugar glaze over top.

He stood back, inspecting his handiwork.

"Oh, my God," he said. "These things are ugly."

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Mr. Thompson grew up working two jobs to help provide for his mother and siblings. When he was 16, his mother forged documents so he could join the Army and have a better chance at life. He was 128 pounds, scrawny and scrappy with a wicked sense of humor. He became a featherweight boxer in the service. He spent a couple of years in Panama, but didn't see any action.

Home in West Virginia, he married Esther Green, whose parents owned a doughnut shop. Mr. Thompson joined the business, driving a truck and making doughnuts by hand twice a day.

The couple had children, and in 1974 moved to Clearwater to open a branch of the family doughnut business. This time, Mr. Thompson decided on a new name for the shop.

Elmo's Donuts.

His children helped out, opening the shop at 3 a.m. to start baking. Mr. Thompson kept them awake by slinging jokes while they sifted flour and rolled dough. Some were snappy one-liners. Some were long and stem-winding. Some were delightfully off-color:

"If there were a bird I'd rather be, I'd rather be a duck. I'd fly over the seashore and watch the people fish."

Or ...

"Little fly upon the wall, ain't you got no paw and maw? Ain't you got no clothes at all? Poor little fly. Squish!"

Mr. Thompson sang, too. On 45-minute delivery rides, he serenaded his children with the sounds of Straighten Up and Fly Right.

He made silver dollar doughnuts for government offices and bingo nights at churches. He did a booming business and even opened another Elmo's location in Kenneth City.

In the early '80s, though, times got hard, and he closed the stores. He settled into a good job with his cousin's printing company. Fifteen years ago, his wife lost her battle with breast cancer.

Mr. Thompson chose to spend his sunset years with as many family members as possible.

"We called him the vagabond," said his daughter, Lee Ann Laue. "He took turns staying with everyone for a while. Just kind of moved around for a couple years. He didn't like to be a burden on people."

He eventually settled into his own apartment in Dunedin. In April, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Mr. Thompson died Oct. 18. He was 79.

- - -

His family spent the days after his death reminiscing.

They slung his jokes back and forth. They talked about his knack for pool and billiards, his love for poker tournaments. His grandson, Ryan Thompson, remembered the karaoke machine his grandpa gave him, and how he always sang King of the Road.

They remembered the doughnut shop.

They remembered a popular little confection that customers flocked to order 60 dozen at a time. It was Elmo's signature, his crowning glory.

An unattractive bite-sized doughnut called an "Ugly."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.


Elmer Thompson

Born: Nov. 17, 1928

Died: Oct. 18, 2008

Survivors: son David; daughters, Marcia Cagwin, Lee Ann Laue, Nanette Willinger; 13 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren.