On The Road: Morrison, Illinois
"But in looking back at the
places I've been
The changes that I've left
I look at myself to find
I've learned the hard way
Shades Of Green
We lived in Morrison from June 1997 until December 2007; ten and a half good years in quintessential smalltown America.
Located in northwestern Illinois, it’s just eleven miles east of the Mississippi River. The Quad Cities, which includes several communities in Illinois and Iowa, is a short forty-five mile hop to the southwest.
U.S. Route 30, the coast-to-coast historic Lincoln Highway, intersects with Illinois Route 78 in Morrison.
Morrison’s population is 4,500 not counting the dogs, cats, horses, cattle, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep or llamas. Yes, llamas; a small herd of the exotic animals roam some wooded acres near a golf course.
The slow-paced, well-served city is stitched out of a quilt of farmland. Corn and soybeans are rotated, which means fields are planted with one then the other in alternate years. As summer ripens, each patch comes to maturity in varying shades of green, which is actually quite remarkably beautiful.
Lincoln & Black Hawk
Morrison is the county seat of Whiteside County. One of Whiteside County’s claims to fame is that Ronald Reagan was born in the county community of Tampico.
For most of our sojourn in Morrison we lived across the street from the County Courthouse. Not to be too cryptic, but I developed some tight connections and often broke bread with a buddy who was a longtime prince of the county.
Whiteside County came into existence in 1836. It was named for Samuel Whiteside, an Illinois militia officer who boosted his public profile by leading a regiment during the War of 1812.
Years later, and by then promoted to General, Whiteside commanded the militia during the Black Hawk War of 1832. He was responsible for commissioning a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.
Captain Lincoln, eager to serve and capture some glory, led a company and advanced his political career in the process.
The Black Hawk War is one of the few wars in U.S. history named after a person. It was a series of skirmishes fought over possession of lands in northern Illinois and present-day southern Wisconsin. The Sauk leader Black Hawk was appointed war chief by his people, and led a band of 500 warriors along with 1000 old men, women, and children.
While on the topic of Abraham Lincoln and the Black Hawk War, local lore claims that while traveling to the battlefield action, Captain Lincoln and his troops camped in a hollow near the Fenton Bunker just south of Morrison. Of course that’s difficult to establish as fact, but as a tall-tale told around a campfire at father-son outings, it sure was easy to embellish the details.
In the autumn of 2009 the citizens of Morrison were stirred up into a near frenzy following their Boys High School Football Mustangs.
In Morrison, as elsewhere across America, Friday nights are events during football season; high school football has near talismanic power to unite and galvanize.
Emmanuel Reformed Church incorporates this dynamic into its ministry by hosting youth-focused Fifth Quarter Parties after every home game. An uncounted number of teens and young adults have had their lives impacted for eternity because of this faithful service to the community.
In 2009 the Mustangs kept winning. The team couldn’t be stopped. There were a few nail-biters and others in which the Mustangs simply dominated.
The embryonic excitement of the regular season became full-blown mania during the play-offs. Then on November 27, 2009 the Morrison High School Football Mustangs defeated Maroa-Forsyth 36-14 to win the IHSA Illinois State Division 2A Championship.
In an eruption of joy and civic pride, the date is likely destined to be chiseled in stone and displayed in a prominent place.
We visited in mid-December 2009, and were pleased to note that our friends and former neighbors hadn’t gone completely wild during the celebrations. The town hadn't been burned to the ground. There weren’t even any smoldering buildings to be seen on any street corners.
MIT & Crossroads
Morrison is home to MIT, which is not a branch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, though the two-year college does play on that famous abbreviation. The Morrison Institute of Technology is just south of town on Route 78.
This MIT specializes in engineering, with an emphasis on Computer Aided Design and Drafting. It is very much a hand’s on learning experience, having some unique options of study, which given the advances and ever increasing pace of change in the technology field, is a definite plus.
My good friend Curtis, who happens to be a drummer extraordinaire, is an MIT graduate presently putting his skills to work at Wahl Clipper in Sterling, IL.
The MIT campus was undergoing a significant expansion of its facilities when we were preparing to leave town. It now houses a weekend tenant for services Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.
After we departed the area, some folks at Crossroads Community Church had vision along with the gumption and resources to successfully launch a healthy, growing cell in the body of Christ. It meets in a new buidling at MIT, and is a satellite of the parent church based in Freeport, IL.
The grapevine reports that longtime Morrison residents satisfied with culturally palatable and institutionalized Christianity are a bit miffed. In my view, that’s not bad at all. Anytime the status quo of church gets shook up is a good deal.
Just north of Morrison is a jewel of 1,164 acres. The morning after we arrived in June 1997, I stopped at Morrison-Rockwood State Park. A large angle-iron sign in the shape of Illinois greeted me.
I parked and started walking along the roadway. It was a beautiful day, with the sun just peeking over the edge of the tree line. The air was fresh, clean, quiet, and still.
I thought and prayed about the journey ahead. The challenges were real. And I was scared. Then in his infinite wisdom God granted me a gift of natural wonder.
A white-tailed doe poked her head out of the forest and took several steps toward the road. I stopped in my tracks at the exact moment she did. Less than ten feet of real estate separated us. She began feeding on the lush grass, munching on it as she eyed me.
As I stood watching the doe, it came to me that everything was going to be fine, and then familiar sounds blasted above and behind me. I turned to see a flock of Canada Geese flying over. There were a dozen of them conversing loudly, which caused a great shivering chill to wash over me, because their honks were interpreted as a bunch of bold exclamation points.
The geese disappeared, the notes of their song echoing. The doe was gone. The moment of perfect clarity was over. Nothing in the ten and a half years that followed ever destroyed the sense of peace on that crystal clear morning.
"As I travel on
Know not what
the years may hold;
As I ponder, hope
flood my soul."
Memories & Pressing On
A decade is a long time. Seven of them mean one has been blessed with a good life; eight decades for those who are truly strong. That’s what an ancient Hebrew leader determined: “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength . . .”
For just over a decade at Morrison, we worked shoulder-to-shoulder with willing co-laborers in many exciting efforts. We may not have conquered every giant we came up against, but at least we tried. We gave it the best we had, and sometimes, in a fallen world full of troubles and heartaches, that has to be enough.
All the friendships we formed in and around Morrison are treasured. Though given the transient nature of modern life, many faces and memories fade into the long, deep shadows of time.
Age, coupled with life and ministry experiences, has worked to make me more and more pragmatic. The fact that life does what it’s supposed to do is settled in my bones. We simply accept it and move on, always running well and leaning forward, endeavoring to hit the finish line hard.
- Morrison-Rockwood State Park
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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