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Commentary -- A visitor's take on what Morris is about

By Bruce Johnson

Sun Tribune editor Tom Larson said he would welcome some of my jottings. I'm the brother of University of Minnesota, Morris professor Clyde Johnson, who was recently laid to rest near the campus.

I asked Tom how a stranger could write to a community he doesn't really know. He replied that sometimes people who are not familiar with Morris see things differently from those who live there. He said locals take a lot of things for granted and do not always appreciate features strangers sense right off the bat.

Speaking of "off the bat," I visited the Stevens County Museum a few years ago and enjoyed the Jerry Koosman exhibit, which one assumes is still there. The successful New York Mets pitcher and Morris native used to make some pretty impressive dents in my team's operations. That would be the Chicago Cubs. By the way, the museum seemed a fine work in progress.

I don't know whether Morrisites, or Morriseans, or is it ... what do you call the citizens of Morris? I don't know whether the people of Morris appreciate it or not, but it is easy to become disoriented in your city. Usually, towns are laid out on a north-south, east-west grid. After at least eight trips in as many years, it finally occurred to me that the railroad dictated how the town was planned. If the rails run northwest to southeast, that's the way the town will be laid out. Atlantic Avenue runs parallel to the tracks with the characteristic grain elevator and other rail-related businesses along the right of way.

A current Morris map shows that more recent developments have oriented to the north-south, east-west configuration. The West Wind Village, where my brother spent his last months, is in one of these areas. It took me three or four runs from his 5th Street house, to find my way to the West Wind.

The chief fact of Morris life is the university, and it is on a hill, which is a rare phenomenon on the prairie. I've been to Morris in every season, and I have to proclaim the natural beauty of the campus.

And now with my brother's passing (April 23) and burial on a site overlooking the Fine Arts building he had a hand in planning, the sunny spring morning (April 28) brought forth a great deal of natural beauty. In fact, the sun shone every day on my last three trips to Morris. I know, I know, it's those winters. We have them in Wisconsin, too.

Some other observations. Morris has a lake, but when you're from Lake Geneva with its Geneva Lake and hundreds of million-dollar estates lining its shores, other lakes, even in the land of 10,000 lakes, become sort of ho-hum. Crystal Lake is a city just over the border in Illinois, and I don't even know whether they have a lake. In Minnesota, I get the impression it is a kind of civic insult not to have a lake.

For a city of less than 6,000, 12 churches seem a good many,

The most singular of natural phenomena in the Morris area is the wind. Air can get moving pretty fast across the prairie. But you know that.

On every visit to Morris, I've spent time walking. I always hope to arrive near the railroad tracks when a freight train is due.

Morris is a pleasant prairie town. The university delivers a substance which deepens the city's character.

Well,, Tom, what think ye of this stranger's take on the county seat of Stevens County?

Bruce D. Johnson is a former English teacher and writer from Lake Geneva, Wis.