Connected to Norris? Well, kinda ... sorta

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

People ask me, as I wander around the highways and byways of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas (an area I call the Golden Plains), why do you call your column “Morris on Norris?”

Well, folks, the time has finally come. I’m going to level with you. In the paragraphs to follow, I’m going to reveal (as truthfully as this old bull shipper is capable of being) why a man named Morris picked a street called Norris in a mid-American town to do what McCook’s current Chamber manager, Jamie Mockry, identifies as a community’s most important trilogy, namely “being a good place to live, work and play.”

Okay. I’ll try. To start I’m going to give you a little history, trying to be as brief as possible so as not to bore you:

I arrived in McCook in June of 1961, just one week after graduation from Kansas State College at Pittsburg where I had majored in Language and Literature with and emphasis in journalism. Allen Strunk, who had taken over as the Gazette’s publisher following the death of his father, Harry D. Strunk, was looking for a city beat and sports reporter and placed an ad in the Kansas City Star.

I saw the ad and immediately responded, hoping to get my first job after getting my Bachelor of Arts degree in May of ‘61. The same day I saw the ad, I sent Allen a resume of my education and experience. And, thrillingly for this recent college grad, Allen called me in late May of 1961 to offer me the job. After a few quick seconds, I accepted and a week and a half later I started my journalism career at the McCook Daily Gazette.

That started my Norris Avenue connection because, in those years, the McCook Daily Gazette was located in the gray-faced stone building at 422 Norris which is now occupied by Daniel Miller’s CPA firm. Since then, Norris Avenue and the late, great U.S. Senator and House of Representatives member, George W. Norris, have been an important part of my life.

My other Norris connections through the years include the following jobs, homes and affiliations. As I embark on a rundown of my Norris years, please be forgiving and understanding. As I approach the age of 80, I’m finding my memories a little fuzzy. Okay, here we go:

Gene O’s Morris on Norris Jobs -- McCook Daily Gazette, reporter and news editor, 1961-1965; McCook Chamber of Commerce, manager, 1967-1969; McCook Economic Development Corp., consultant, 2015-2016.

Gene O’s Morris on Norris Residences -- 905 Norris Avenue, home, 1967-1971; 508 Norris Avenue, apartment, 1971-1975; 1503 Norris Avenue, home, 2004-2017.

Gene O’s Morris on Norris Affiliations -- McCook Memorial United Methodist Church, 1961-1965; Masonic Lodge, Temple Building, ongoing; Morris & Boehm, promotional consultants, Temple Building, briefly in 1979 and 1980.

After taking a slice of your time to tell you about my stops and starts on Norris Avenue, I have a confession to make. To be candid, after having lived on Norris, worked on Norris and meetinged on Norris, the avenue really doesn’t have too much to do with why this column is called Morris on Norris.

The main reason is a connection I made with a couple of guys I met soon after moving to McCook. Their names were Bob Morris, Jr. and John Morris. They were the sons of the original Bob Morris, an old school journalist who bounced between jobs with, among others, the McCook Daily Gazette and the then-new television station, KHOL-TV, which was (and is) assigned to Holdrege but is best known for its coverage of the Tri Cities of Kearney, Hastings and Grand Island.

During his glory days -- in the feisty 1950s -- Bob was out on the streets of McCook, gathering news for the then editor-publisher, Harry D. Strunk. It was in that capacity that Bob launched the first Morris on Norris column.

I never met Bob in person, but I heard a lot about him from his son, John, who worked with me one summer at the Gazette. Since we shared the Morris name, John and I traded family stories from time-to-time. Once, I mentioned to John that I really liked the idea of the Morris on Norris column started by his Dad. John said, “Thanks. My Dad was quite a character.” That was about the extent of our conversation.

Many years later -- several years after becoming the Gazette’s publisher in 1990 -- I started a column and, remembering back to those early days at the Gazette when an unrelated guy named Bob coined the column title, Morris on Norris, I took the liberty of swiping it as the title for my writings about McCook and the surrounding Golden Plains region of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas.

While the column title is most often construed to be a reference to the community’s main north-south street, I hope, also, that the title inspires thoughts about McCook’s most famous citizen, the late, great George W. Norris.

After many years in McCook and after reading many books and hearing many stories, it is my belief that George William Norris is one of, if not the greatest, legislators in American history. If, in any way, Morris on Norris helps spread that message, my time and effort is worth every ounce of energy I have expended.

I’m Morris. But the real hero to me, and I hope to you, is Norris.

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