Parks and Recreation Image

Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Morris, Llano Frederick

by Dan Morris

My great granddad, Alfred Morris, was born in Franklin County, Georgia, in 1802, and as a storekeeper moved to Sabine County, Texas, where my granddad Elisha Frederick Morris was born in 1845. He became a storekeeper and postmaster and married Roxanna McCoy, who had moved to Texas to be away from the Hatfields. Roxanna gave birth to Llano Frederick Morris, in Llano County, Texas in 1884. He was 21/2 years old when the Morris family with six girls and Llano traveled by covered wagon to Olympia, Washington territory, in 1886-a trip which took six months via the Oregon Trail with a wagon train, then ferried to Mt. Vernon to start a store and post office, where dad grew up.

My dad, with a grade school education, became a sign painter and carpenter by trade while working in Washington and Oregon. He shipped up to Juneau in 1915, and started a general construction firm. Everyone called him L.F. or Fred. In Juneau, he met Minnie E. Pate, who was born on a farm in Jefferson, Marion County, Oregon. She had attended two years of business school and was a Juneau Telephone Company operator when they were married. The Morris family’s first born was Joyce Althea in 1916, then Leon Elisha in 1917, and Anne Natheal in 1920, all at the residence that dad built at Twelfth and A Streets. His business thrived and during prohibition he even dabbled in moonshine, as a service to man’s thirst. It must have been the McCoy blood coming home to roost. As luck would have it, dad won a new 1926 Studebaker, took delivery of it in Seattle and toured with the family to California to see his mother and six sisters. They must have had a good vacation as I, Daniel Wayne was born in 1927, at our city house. I remember living there because when I was 21/2 and sitting on a sawbuck to hold the wood Leon and Anne were cutting with a crosscut saw, the saw slipped and gouged my leg to the bone, and the scar is still there today.

The 1929 stock market crash collapsed the Juneau economy as well as the Morris Construction Company, which employed 115 men at the time, including the Morris Cabinet shop. In 1930, we moved to the partially finished Morris House, construction having started in1927. It was located on the south side of Salmon Creek Point, now in the area of the DOT office building. With only rainwater for the house and no electricity, the farm supplied fox furs, pork, poultry, eggs, vegetables and fruits which bridged the gap during the recession years. Hunting everything was it for dad, but his best was hunting moose. Thirteen in all, up the Taku River for 33 years. Never gave up! Also during this period dad became enamored with Sydney Laurence’s artistry and painted many Alaska scenes of a similar nature of which the Morris family have collected and hold dear to our hearts. Unfortunately, he became allergic to paint and dryers and couldn’t continue painting. Carol Beery Davis and dad, through his interest in music, became friends through piano lessons for the girls, and she inspired dad to write poetry and prose, never published, but that reflected the signs of the times.

In the late thirties, with the rush to defend Alaska and the armed forces buildup, construction business was revitalized. Dad sold large quantities of our farm gravel for a nickel a yard, required to rebuild roads and bridges for the Army’s heavy equipment. Thus, money became available to build business rental properties. My sister Joyce, a returning graduate of music college, was the first to be married in 1939, to Arthur Weston, and in 1940, Anne married Svend Escel Thorpe. Brother Leon liked cars, boats, horses and airplanes; he married in 1941, and worked as a carpenter at a Kodiak military base. I worked summers during high school and became the chicken and egg king. During the war the cold storage eggs were known to burst upon being cracked, so I sold fresh eggs for a premium at $1 per dozen. In the four years of selling eggs from the 200-hen flock, I saved $3,000. As I was going in the service and outside for the first time, dad said, “Rather than blow the money as a kid, I’ll invest it and in ten years when you get married you’ll have $5,000 when you need it.” I said okay, and that’s the start of another story. In August 1945, I received a Congressional Territorial appointment to the US Coast Guard preparatory school in Groton, Connecticut, and trained until June, 1946, when the President demobilized volunteers like myself. I returned to Juneau and worked with dad, building special riverboats for the Fish and Wildlife, which used them for fisheries research up the rivers.

Bella Iverson, born on a North Dakota farm in 1928, graduated from a Fargo nursing school in 1949, and came to Juneau as a surgical nurse for St. Ann’s Hospital, along with two other classmates. Bella and I married in 1950, moved to Bozeman, Montana, and I enrolled via the GI Bill in the Architectural Engineering School of Montana State College. We returned to Juneau for three summers, where I worked as a carpenter and Bella as an office nurse for Dr. Rude. In 1953, dad died and brother Leon took over the house and boat building facilities near the Salmon Creek power plant and rebuilt the Morris Construction Company, in a very short time. Mother lived with us for a few years and also with Joyce and with Anne in Eagle River, Alaska. Bella and I were blessed with three girls, and after graduating with a BS in Architectural Engineering in 1954, I drafted for an architect during the evenings and weekends and in six months I framed and enclosed our new house, moved in and finished it while living there. That’s the rest of the story of the $5,000 which was now available and paid for half of the house, as dad had advised.

In 1958, we moved to Eugene, Oregon. While again working for an architect, we again built a home. In 1964, now a licensed architect in Oregon, I joined two other architects in a practice and designed schools, churches and residential projects.

Brother Lee died in 1965, pouring concrete at his contract, the new Douglas Post Office. He was a great guy and a chip off the old block, bless both their souls.

Our last big family project came as a surprise in 1968, by the name of Llano Wayne Morris, a neat 81/2 pound package with all that exterior plumbing. Everyone was overjoyed that year except for another recession. We moved to Tacoma, Washington in 1969.

This time Bella said, “Buy a house that is finished,” and a builder made me a new house offer that I couldn’t refuse. It may have been new, but being a carpenter I worked on projects and additions for all the 24 years we lived there. I was a project architect for a local architectural and engineering firm for 10 years and program manager for the US Postal Service for Alaska and five western states until 1992. We sold our home and purchased a condo thinking ahead that the less maintenance the better. Our daughters are all married with two living in Tacoma and one in Illinois. Our son graduated from Arizona State University and lives in Tempe, Arizona.

Sister Anne worked on the Alaska Pipeline and returned to Eagle River outside of Anchorage. As her husband was killed in a Fairbanks hotel fire, she asked mom to stay with her. Mother Morris, walking every day in the Anchorage fall days, passed away at 85 and asked that her ashes stay in Alaska, scattered on the Chugach Range. Wish granted.

Eleven years later my sister Joyce, mother of five, died very suddenly at 78 years. She had achieved her goal of being the Supreme Grand Organist for the National Elks Convention, so if she can’t find a piano or organ to play in heaven, I know that she’s leading the choir, playing the harp.

The USPS reorganized and rather than move to California or Colorado, I took RETIREMENT and we eventually moved to Surprise, Arizona, to be near our son. After three years of landscaping and interior decoration and seeing the wonders of Arizona, I volunteered for an appointment to the Planning and Zoning Commission, City of Surprise. Bella’s enjoying retirement, too, and as a commissioner of the fastest growing city in Arizona, I keep busy doing those architectural and planning things I like. They just don’t pay much. Oh, well!