JAY - Don Morrison has spent much of his life serving this community in some form or another.
He grew up in Carthage, attended school there and graduated in 1962. Upon his graduation he attended SUNY Plattsburgh to get a B.A. in elementary education. He moved back to Carthage and began his teaching career by teaching fifth-grade students at Great Bend.
Don then decided to join the Army during the Vietnam conflict. (Yes, he joined; he was not drafted.) He ended up becoming a dog handler for alert dogs, and during his second year in the military, he was sent to Vietnam. His job was to head out with a dog, ahead of military groups, to make sure there were no land mines or other hazards. Also he and the dog were brought in to find stashes of weapons. His military service ended after one tour of flying around Vietnam to help different units.
Don Morrison and his dog Daisy
(Photo — Jeremie Fish)
Upon Don's return home, he began to teach fourth grade in west Carthage. It was there he met his eventual wife, Connie, who taught physical education.
After Don finished out his time at west Carthage, he received a position as assistant dean for the dorms at SUNY Potsdam. Connie stayed behind to finish out her contract at west Carthage.
Don remembers the days at Potsdam as very good ones. He was making a good salary, he could take any courses he wanted for free, he was given housing, and he even had someone who came in once a week to clean.
Don and Connie married at the Jay United Methodist Church in 1970 because her parents lived (and still live) in the area and attended that church. Their first daughter, Heather, was born while he was working in Potsdam.
Thanks to the free classes Don was allowed to take, he received a master's degree there. It was then, after three years at Potsdam, that he decided to take a position in Lake Placid. The job was reading consultant for the school, and he was in charge of the reading program. Connie took a physical education job in AuSable Forks.
Don and his family moved to Jay, and they ended up living in several different places there before finding the home they currently live in. Don continued on as the reading consultant at Lake Placid Elementary School for four years until the principal position opened up. Don applied and ended up with the job. He spent the next 20 years in that position before retiring.
As the principal, Don enjoyed testing the kid's abilities. He had several book reading challenges for them, and when they met the goals that were set, Don would do silly things as a reward. For instance, one time they met their goal, Don moved his desk to the roof and sat up there the entire day. It happened to be February and was 20 degrees below zero that day, and when they tried to bring his lunch of soup up to the roof, it froze solid before they got it to him. On a different challenge, Don ended up walking from his house in Jay all the way to Lake Placid.
Every year Don also hosted a Swing into Spring event at the school. All the kids were allowed to wear shorts and suntan lotion on the first day of spring (regardless of the weather). It was an all-around fun day that would reach its pinnacle at 1 p.m., when they would fill a little swimming pool and Don was the first person to jump in. He was always coming up with creative ways to keep the children engaged.
Don retired as the principal in 1999, but instead of that being an end, it was more of a beginning for him. He may be busier in retirement than he was working.
The first thing Don did in retirement was to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. He hiked 1,000 miles of the trail in his first year, but he got homesick and left. Two years later, he returned to the place where he left off and finished the rest of the trail. He has also hiked other trails in retirement such as the Vermont Long Trail and the Northville-Placid Trail. Don has also become a summer 46er. (His wife Connie is a winter 46er.)
Also upon retirement, Don served as a student teacher supervisor for nine years at SUNY Plattsburgh. For a couple of summers he cooked at the Atmospheric Science Research Center on Whiteface Mountain as well.
Don and Connie have been attending Whiteface Community United Methodist Church since after they were married there (though the Jay portion has since shut down and they now go to the Wilmington church). They are co-chairs of the administrative church council there, and Don has served as the church janitor and currently runs the screens every Sunday at the church.
Don was talking with some friends prior to his retirement about things that the community needed here, and they agreed that the community could use a food pantry. So Don decided to start one in Wilmington. The Ecumenical Food Pantry is run by Don, and Whiteface United Methodist Church has provided space for him to run it. Originally it started out with space in the church basement but since has moved to the church offices. The food pantry became a part of the regional food bank and is funded entirely by donations; the church does not provide funding, only space. There are now four volunteers who help run the food pantry, and there is sometimes enough money left over for ecumenical outreach as well, for doing things such as helping people with emergency money for rent. The food pantry has been open for 20 years.
If that is not enough to keep Don busy, he also for a period of time served on the Jay planning board, still serves on the Upper Jay library board and has been a volunteer firefighter in the Jay fire department for 35 years.
Don has three daughters who all serve in the Coast Guard, perhaps having picked up on their father's serving spirit.