Not too long ago, a couple folks from a marketing firm sat down in a circle with folks from Morris and asked us about our town - what makes it unique, what about it do we most enjoy and why do people come here?
It's harder than you think to answer those questions, particularly when you try to think of why anyone might come to Morris.
I came here to go to college. I was the first in my family to attend college and Morris was the only logical choice for me. I wanted to be far enough away from my parents so they couldn't just drop in on me. Additionally, I didn't want to go to the same place as my high school classmates, if only because I had been called, 'Bakeface' enough and I hoped that the nickname would be forgotten if I wasn't around every day to remind them. Finally, I came to Morris after attending freshmen orientation with friends at a much bigger school where one of the most important things they taught the newcomers was the chant, "Sioux suck." I really did want more from college.
So here I am. And I have stayed because I found love, steady work and the kinds of friends that make it hard to leave.
Others in the room were here because they were born here and could find no good reason to leave.
Still others weren't necessarily sure this is where they wanted to live forever but it was good for now.
And while it took us some time to get warmed up, once we did, the list of what's good about Morris got rather lengthy: good schools, safe neighborhoods, no traffic jams, friendly business people, strong traditions of hard work and volunteerism. You get the idea.
When we tried to answer the question of why people come to Morris, of course the University of Minnesota, Morris was on the list. So too was the West Central Research and Outreach Center, the Stevens County fair, and a varied list of restaurants and other specific businesses. But by far, the biggest reason people come to Morris, we decided, was people-related: reunions, weddings, funerals, graduations, and good, old-fashioned visiting.
Coincidentally, one of the things we all said we enjoy most about our fair hamlet was also the people. The way people will help you with whatever you need without you even having to ask, that cars will stop to let a dog cross the road because you know whose dog it is, and when the cucumbers are ripe, you might come home from work and find a paper sack full of them on your kitchen counter.
You know, life is pretty good in Morris.
But there is room for improvement. And I've been searching the Internet for suggestions. It's been something of a mixed blessing, as there are more web sites that have nothing good to say about small towns, their lack of anonymity and rigid social rules. But I stumbled across the following quote:
"The arts which men cultivate for the sake of glory or profit are indeed apt to fall into decay in poor and obscure towns; but virtue, like a stout and hardy plant, takes root in any place where it finds a noble nature and a spirit ready to put forth effort. Hence, if we fail to think and to live as we ought, we cannot in justice blame the smallness of our native city for it, but ourselves."
Plutarch, from the "Life of Demosthenes."