Dick Morgan, a lifelong Harney County resident, passed away Saturday, April 4.
Dick was born in Burns Sept. 29, 1935, to James Madison (Matt) Morgan and Jessie Marie Seward Morgan. He was born in his Aunt Vera Fine’s house, which sat on the corner of Grand and Washington Streets, where the current home of Harney District Hospital (HDH) Family Care Clinic is located. His first bassinet was a drawer in his Aunt Vera’s dresser. He was the last of four children, and was 12 years younger than his youngest sister. He was raised in Frenchglen while his Dad ran sheep with Joe Fine (Dick’s uncle by marriage), and they moved to the P Ranch when his dad began working for the refuge. His childhood friends, Joe and Jerry Miller and Fred Witzel, kept the Blitzen valley lively, as only young boys can do!
When Dick was in middle school, he and his mom and dad moved to Leavenworth, Wash. Dick was a trumpet player in the band there, and this is where his love of music really took hold. They spent approximately two years there until his dad’s health forced them to move to Ontario to be near doctors and family. His dad, Matt, died when Dick was only 13.
Dick had always been a “spirited child” and had a mind of his own. The “Dick Morgan Way” started young and was his theme throughout his life. The “Dick Morgan Way” wasn’t necessarily the right way or the easy way, but it wasn’t necessarily the wrong way either. It was just his way. This spirit became a challenge to his mother and Dick started down a road of being very independent after the death of his dad. He graduated from Crane Union High School in 1953 where he played football, baseball, and basketball. When he wasn’t in school, he spent most of his free time with his childhood friends, Joe and Jerry Miller, with his sister, Irene, in John Day, and working as a buckaroo for Joe Fine.
After high school, he went to school at OIT in Klamath Falls for a time, worked for Edward Hines, and worked as a buckaroo, mostly for Roaring Springs Ranch. He also tried his hand at bareback riding on the professional rodeo circuit. His nephew remembers seeing him crash through a fence at the Grant County Fair rodeo. Soon after that abrupt dismount, his rodeo career ended.
In 1958, he was drafted into Uncle Sam’s Army. Dick spent two years in the service, attending training at Fort Sill, Okla., and then on to Dachau, Germany, where he spent 17 months with the 2D Howitzer Battalion 37th Artillery. Now remember, he had that “Dick Morgan Way” which didn’t always match up with “Uncle Sam’s Way.” Needless to say, his quirky sense of humor and adventure made sure he was an expert at peeling potatoes and paint! He was an original Beetle Bailey. One of his biggest misadventures was a train ride that lasted WAY too long. He got on in Munich and was headed back to Dachau. He fell asleep and passed Dachau, and woke up in a small train station in Floffenhaufen. He eventually made it back to Dachau where the potatoes were waiting! He was very proud of those that served before him and liberated the camps at Dachau. His daughter had a chance to visit Dachau in the 1980s and they got to spend hours poring over pictures and sharing what they had each seen. He had a great respect and reverence for those who served in the military, but didn’t feel he deserved any recognition as a veteran. He always told people to focus their gratitude on those who served in combat time or spent their careers in the military. He made some good friends in Dachau and in the 1990s, was able to reunite with one his Army buddies after 30-plus years. He got the opportunity to travel to Virginia twice and visit his buddy, “Kirk,” telling stories and trying to top the other’s tall tales. They talked regularly on the phone for a minimum of an hour each time, fixing the ways of the world.
In 1960, he returned from Germany and picked his life back up as a logger and buckaroo. He made a lasting friendship with Babe Gibson and his son, Monty, and began working as his partner racing horses. He had an ownership in one horse, Harney King, who won a number of races and then was taken in a claims race in early 1963. As Dick noted, it gave him a nest egg for his upcoming marriage. At the racetrack is where he refined and honed his horse shoeing skills, enamored by how swift and accurate those racehorse farriers could set a shoe. As noted in some stories he’d written, prior to that he learned to shoe horses the Miller way – which was just get iron between the foot and the rocks. Shoeing a horse was an art to him, and he agonized over each foot that he crafted. He would tell you, “God knows I wasn’t built for it,” but he certainly did love it.
In June of 1963, he married Terry Karen Garris in Pendleton. They met at a Diamond dance in 1961 when Karen accompanied Susan Haines O’Toole home from college. Karen was going to nursing school in Portland, and Dick would go to Portland Meadows to race and take time to visit Karen. As he always said, he was a bright boy… he waited for them to get married until she graduated from college so she could support him!
In 1964, his daughter Terri Jo was born, and in 1969, his son, Fred Mattison (Matt), was born. He treasured his children and always put them first. He was always the parent who was silently in the background making sure whatever activity his children were involved in could happen. He spent hours grooming and lining the Little League ball fields in town. He’d work all day in the woods and then come home in the afternoon and line the fields so games could begin. The fields near Fillmore are named Morgan Field in honor of the work that he did. He shod almost every 4-Her’s horses during the time his daughter was in horse 4-H. While she was on the fair court, he was the “fetch it” guy whenever they traveled.
Dick’s love of animals was almost legendary. Any animal that came to reside at the Morgan residence was loved and respected, right down to the hamsters Santa brought one Christmas. His black lab, Lucy Jane, was his constant companion, almost living in his pickup. Many people in town thought that his wife used to ride in the middle next to him on the seat, but on closer look it was just his black lab. His last “dog” was actually a cat that he cherished as much as any animal. We believe the Rainbow Bridge is where animals go to await their master’s entrance to heaven. That bridge was full of four-legged critters awaiting the return of their beloved Dick.
He was a man of many talents. He played the trumpet for many years in school, and loved most types of music (new age country, hip hop and rock and roll just didn’t quite make the grade). He was a bareback rider for a time (but always said that he couldn’t make enough money to support that habit), was a racehorse trainer/owner and pony person, a buckaroo, a horse shoer, author, and an artist who worked in pen and ink when he drew. When his hands would no longer let him draw up to the Dick Morgan standard, he became a paver stone artist. He designed and built driveways and walkways. One of his favorite accomplishments was the paver stones over the graves of his sister, Edith Morgan Dripps, and her family at the Drewsey cemetery. Everything that he did was with perfection and was done the Dick Morgan Way! And for those who knew him, it always seemed to be “just the right way!”
He is survived by his wife of 51 ½ years, Karen; daughter, Terri Jo Morgan; son, Matt Morgan; niece, Jane Dripps; nephews, Fred Waterman, Todd Morgan and Mark Morgan; and many great-nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents; sister, Irene Morgan Waterman; brother, James Donald (Don) Morgan; sister, Edith Morgan Dripps; nephews, Gene Dripps and Steve Waterman; and nieces, Verna Jo Waterman Pierce and Kay Morgan.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Harney County Community Flag Fund or the High School Athletic Fund, in care of LaFollette’s Chapel, PO Box 488, Burns, OR 97720.