"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

Focus of pride in Morris MN: our school! - morris mn

Focus of pride in Morris MN: our school! - morris mn
Our school in Morris is a hub of community activity and enrichment. (B.W. photo)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Edward Morrison, RIP

The image shows Ed and Helen Jane Morrison at the gallery named for them at UMM.
 
Ed Morrison has gone to that publishing office in the sky. His life was long and rich. The end finally comes as it did for my father.
Connected as he was to publishing, I'm not sure that's the role he would wish to be enshrined with him. He was on the ground floor helping ensure that our campus on the east side of town would transition into the 1960s. Apparently there was grave concern that this might not happen.
The town leaders collectively said "eureka" when the U of M, the most august institution imaginable, declared its intention to take over the campus. It seemed like striking oil.
The campus had been phased out from its long-time role instructing farm kids. It was the West Central School of Agriculture. Kids came here for a shorter school year than their city cousins. Those were labor intensive days on family farms. The kids were needed for home duties, so their school commitments got crammed into an abbreviated school year. The WCSA existed because it filled a need, as all education institutions do. But times change. Our culture evolves. Technology makes inroads. We adjust. The kind of farm life that existed in Norman Rockwell's America was fading. Our "ag school" in Morris reached its end.
Ed Morrison was part of a leadership network that was typical in our small communities of the mid-20th Century. These people were autonomous in how they ran their businesses and families. Autonomous? Those were the days of mom and pop businesses on main street. Main street was clearly the hub of the community. People pushed coins into parking meters. Men gathered at the pool hall. Let's consider the bankers: They were like tribal leaders in the community. Whereas today the head of a bank answers to people in a distant corporate office, back then the banks were stand-alone enterprises with flag firmly planted in the community.
The various heads of the old banks engendered opinions among the citizenry - frankly, oftentimes jealousy, perhaps prompted just by the perceived wealth of those bankers. A sociologist wrote extensively about the old small town model in a book he wrote about a 1950s murder in Foley MN. He shared it in considering whether certain circumstances related to the murder may have been soft-pedaled or covered up. While that's a notorious scenario, feeding conspiracy theory thinking, let's emphasize instead the forward-looking model as we saw in Morris in around 1960.
Ed Morrison with his newspaper business was committed to seeing Morris thrive with the arrival of the University of Minnesota. Meanwhile I was in St. Paul watching "Captain Kangaroo" on TV. My father taught music at the U of M's St. Paul campus.
My life was going to merge with the Morrisons. No, I'm not the kind of person who'd be quoted in an article about Ed's passing. I was merely a "foot soldier" type of employee in the Morris newspaper organization. I was the quintessential foot soldier, getting seen all over the place virtually seven days a week. I went to my office one Christmas Eve and kept my window drapes open, so passers-by (police?) would notice me there. It's the only meaningful role I had in life. It ended in 2006, several years after the Morrisons left their ownership interest.
Ed left any newspaper-related headaches behind him while son Jim stuck around for a time. Forum Communications sucked all the joy out of working there. The paper followed the pattern of those banks I alluded to, no longer locally owned but part of branch systems. The heads of these places can always say "hey, I just work here!" It's nice in a way. On the down side, these local managers can be given local directives and policies - Wells Fargo! - that they know are not in their customers' interests. They plod ahead, knowing they must do as they're told.
Jim was assigned a boss named Dennis Winskowski of Detroit Lakes. In a vein of levity I came up with the nickname "Ol' Leadbottom" for Winskowski, plucking that moniker from my recollection of the old "McHale's Navy" TV series. Ever notice how that series isn't re-run much? The reason is its political correctness issues, their terms for referring to the Japanese.
Jim Morrison admitted to me he didn't get along great with Dennis Winskowski. I would suggest that anyone "not getting along" with their boss in the Forum Communications system is not going to be around long.
Newspapers fell into the path of retrenching in order to keep profits coming in from legacy customers. I saw it as a cynical strategy. The business world has a word for it: "harvesting." The crop is mature and it's time to haul it in. We'll worry about the future tomorrow. The Grant County Herald has resisted that temptation and is a vastly superior product to the present-day Morris Sun Tribune.
 
Nursing UMM to its feet
Ed Morrison and his network of community guardians did everything they could to facilitate UMM's arrival. The word at the time was that UMM might be viewed as experimental and that its future was not even assured. The state had the benefit of taking advantage of an already-existing campus.
Maybe there was a feeling of fits and starts as UMM got going. UMM got past those baby steps with Dean Rodney Briggs. I'm biased when I say the most vibrant aspect of the campus in those heady early days was my father's men's chorus. Remember those trademark maroon blazers? Remember how they wowed audiences at Edson Auditorium? Remember how they traveled to two World's Fairs? Those memories cannot be topped. I'm sure the Morrisons joined in the audiences.
UMM was never a good fit with me personally. I always felt intimidated by the place because I was sure my own intelligence level wouldn't cut it there. I was puzzled by the total liberal arts mantra that it subscribed to. It was taboo in this community to suggest any other, more allegedly "practical," purpose for the school. UMM interests would come at you as if a mafia, if you were reputed to make such a suggestion.
But then I learned this was a pattern in Morris MN, of certain memes or notions that were not meant to be questioned. This can be a dangerous pattern. In the late 1980s the public school was a focus for an earthquake type of clash in the community, over issues that were really rather minor and manageable in the scheme of things. It showed the power of a classic "good old boy network."
I sense that those dynamics are gone now. So too is the old framework of totally locally owned banks with their (male) leaders who were sort of like tribal chiefs in the community - patriarchs. Ed Morrison was a patriarch and a noble one carrying the best of intentions. His legacy can be seen on the east end of town, every time you pass by our campus.
UMM may not be done with transformational challenges. We hear about how liberal arts is being cut back across the nation all the time. Could a new metamorphosis arrive? I think it's quite likely. In the meantime we have gotten our beloved campus through previous chapters with diverse purposes, all starting out with a crusade to bring Native Americans into Western culture.
I was six years old when coming here. Thus I'm considered a "lifer" for all practical purposes. I believe I started kindergarten midway through the year with teacher Ms. Feigum. The other kindergarten teacher was Sylvia Yarger who sat at my table for church coffee Sunday. Sylvia is in her 90s and quite vibrant, following our Minnesota Vikings with great exuberance.
I feel as though Ed and Jim reflected the generation gap in the same way as my father and I. Jim and I would laugh at jokes the meaning of which wasn't relevant to our parents' experiences. Our parents were so straight-laced and responsible with their lives, getting to bed at the proper hour etc. Meanwhile the children bounced around in a most silly fashion. Didn't we ever stop to think we were so different from our parents? Did we ever pause to wonder why? That infernal marijuana. Why did anyone have to push that in my face? Why the ear-splitting "stereo" music? Sociologists have surely explored this.
We have lost an iconic member of the so-called "greatest generation" in Morris. Carry on, Helen Jane. Us younger people should be humbled, trying to internalize the principles our parents would wish to bequeath us. Get to bed at a decent hour.
 
You won't find this in the obituary
To conclude I'll share a trivial little nugget of remembrance. I noticed that Ed would sometimes reach to the seat of his pants and pull out a little, as if his undershorts had gotten too far into his crack. I had the same tendency because I never took to the "tight pants" fashion for males in the 1970s ("Starsky and Hutch").
I mentioned that little habit of Ed and I, one night when a bunch of us were "on the town." I began reaching back to give a little tug once in a while, and each time it was met with uproarious laughter. We were consuming alcohol back in a time when we were much less inhibited doing that. We'd go to a restaurant for the "bar rush." The waitresses at restaurants today probably need a little lesson on what that was. It was really shameful. But life always goes on. It always goes on.
Edward Morrison will continue watching the doings in Morris MN from his perch in heaven. I hope he is someday joined by his son even though his son professes to be a non-believer.
 
Click on the link below to appreciate the flavor of UMM's earliest days.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcXFMzPGCH0
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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