Tribute to Don's hometown

"Enjoy coming home because there is going to be a time when you can't go home.
The home will be there but the people in the house won't be there."
~ Lionel Richie, 2024

mtmorrisNestled in the heart of the Midwest lies the charming village of Mount Morris, Illinois.   It is about 100 miles west of Chicago and near Ronald Reagan’s hometown, Dixon, Illinois.   I grew up there in the 1950s and will forever be proud to call this special place my hometown.

Mount Morris was founded in 1836 by a group of settlers from New York and quickly became a thriving agricultural center.  In the late 1800s, it gained national recognition as the home of Mount Morris College.  Although the college closed in 1939 after a tragic fire, its legacy continues to shape the town's overall character. 

Mount Morris became a publishing mecca in 1898 starting with Kable Printing.  The town thrived until the demise of Kable along with many other like entities and eventually the school system itself.    No sense lamenting that now.  Rather, my purpose with this article is to praise Mount Morris for what it did for me and so many others who grew up there in the mid-20th century.

Today, Mount Morris leaders and residents can proudly proclaim that the town's future is promising.   Read all about their efforts to revitalize it by visiting the website at for all the details.  I applaud the ongoing efforts of everyone involved to revitalize the town we all love.  I often wish we could be there to help.

In 1957, a film production company came to town to make a short film called "Town and Country Recreation".  They picked several residents to play bit parts.  Watch it and you will recall familiar places and faces.  Coach Lou Behrens portrayed the leader of the community team that spearheaded the community-wide effort.  Surely, this film showcases a town that yearned for a rebirth much like is happening today.  Click the photo and Enjoy! 

My most enduring memories are of shared experiences with family, friends, teachers, classmates, teammates, and coaches.   All were a testament to the enduring spirit of a community that deeply cared for one another.   The person who had the most profound impact on my life was my high school vocational agriculture teacher, Mr. Mel Burkhalter. He persuaded my parents to enroll me in the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois.  In those days, farm kids like me typically stayed on the farm to follow in their father’s footsteps.  Moreover, as a C+ student at MMHS, I was a poor prospect for completing a college degree.  Despite all doubts, my parents sided with Mr Burkhalter.   I  accepted the challenge and was off to the U of I that fall.   When Mr. Burkhalter passed away his widow chose me to be one of his pallbearers.  I gratefully accepted.   The profound impact that Mr. Burkhalter and my parents had on in my life's journey is beyond measure. 

Mont Morris is a town that is much more than just a dot on the map.  It has shaped many lives, instilling values of hard work, resilience, and the importance of community spirit.   Memories of events such as Friday night football games, the annual “Make Freedom Ring” 4th of July celebration, and our MMHS prom resonate in the hearts of all who grew up within its embrace.   Whenever friends and classmates get together for reunions, we all reminisce about our formative years spent in this idyllic town.  Visit my MMHS class of 59's website at to see what I mean. 

mtmorris2My hometown is a cradle of childhood adventures, a backdrop for teenage escapades, and a wellspring of lifelong friendships. The very essence of Mount Morris is encapsulated in the stories of the people who grew up within its embrace.   Some of my more memorable stories that come to mind include:

  • Failing the third grade.  It was a devastating personal experience, but one that paid off later in life.  Mathematics was my downfall as I could only add and subtract numbers by counting on my fingers.  I'm thankful to my teacher and parents for holding me back and grateful to my new 3rd classmates for their understanding and acceptance.

  • MMHS's football team became conference champs in my senior year, 1959.   I credit Coach Walter, our quarterback Stan Corbett and all our dedicated teammates for making this achievement possible.

  • At the age of 17, I got my first car, a 1949 Oldsmobile, which burned nearly as much oil as gas.  Dad had an agreement with Police Chief Palmer for me to drive it to school provided I parked it on a side street near school.  

  • The MMHS Junior-Senior Prom was always a special event.   The guys wore white jackets, boutonnieres, and black bow ties.  Our dates looked spectacular!

  • Sam Frey drove the school bus my sister, Nancy, and I rode to and from school.  On occasion, when the snow was too deep, dad had to take us to school on the tractor.  Back then we never had snow days as an excuse for staying home.

  • The Lamb Theater in Mount Morris was a main attraction.  We all loved the movies, especially the Superman series.  Sometimes, we secretly delighted in rolling ball bearings down the sloping floor from the back row. 

  • I had a small part in our senior class play.   Although it was an enjoyable experience, I had trouble remembering my lines.

  • The White Pines Roller Rink is where I learned how to not look cool while falling on roller skates.    For many of us, skating at the rink was our first venture into holding hands with a girl.  Sigh.

  • As we got older, many of us with cars frequented the White Pines drive-in theater for a date night.   I can't say that I remember all that much about the movies.  Perhaps I was too distracted including trying not to forget to remove the speaker hanging from the driver's side window when it was time to leave. 

  • Zickuhr's drug store was where townspeople often gathered for a cup of coffee or something from the soda fountain.  It was a place to get caught up with the latest goings-on in town.   Surely it was my Mom's favorite hangout in the 50s.

  • Dr. Stengel was the epitome of a small-town family doctor.  He once put my right hand back together following a farm accident.    Everybody respected and admired him for his dedicated service.

  • Pat and I were married at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Mount Morris 56 years ago.  It was made all the more memorable by the attendance of our families and many Mount Morris area families and friends.   My best man was classmate Stan Corbett and Pat's matron of honor was her childhood friend Jan Stierwalt.  I wore my Navy dress white uniform and Pat wore a long white wedding dress with a veil.  We cut the cake with my sword at the reception which was followed by a rice-laden sendoff.  Our honeymoon was a quick trip back to San Diego so Don could catch his ship in time for it to leave on a Western Pacific deployment.

  • Coming back home to Mount Morris following my Navy retirement in 1989 was something I had yearned for.  Regrettably, we didn't stay as long as we should have.  That's my fault and I regret it. 

  •  Visit these websites which have been created to share memories and facilitate communications:


Paying tribute to Mount Morris would not be complete without again saluting the warmth of her people, the strength of its community bonds, and the enduring legacy it has imparted to those who grew up within its embrace.   Mount Morris, with its timeless charm and indelible spirit, remains a cherished place that I love and will forever call my hometown.