If you've hopped aboard a Morris Transit bus lately and the driver greets you wearing a big smile and a University of Minnesota shirt or cap, you must be riding with Tom Leuty. A familiar face about town, Leuty comes from a long line of Morris' familiar faces.
One of five children born to Dr. Robert and Pearl Leuty on April 2, 1944, Leuty attended Longfellow Elementary School through the third grade.
"In 1956 we moved to the new elementary school," he said.
Leuty graduated from Morris High School in 1963 and attended Bemidji State for 1-1/2 half years to major in elementary education and physical education.
He entered the military and was stationed first at Ft. Leonard Wood, then in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry.
On New Year's Day 1966, he was shipped to Vietnam and served a year there, followed by a year during which he attended St. Cloud State.
"I joined the post office in 1968, working as a letter carrier in northeast Minneapolis for 30 years," said Leuty. When he retired from the post office he moved to St. Cloud and worked for Catholic Charities delivering meals to homes and convents.
In 2002, Leuty returned to his Morris roots.
"I wanted to move back to a small town," said Leuty, who loves to fish and hunt in the area.
Leuty has four daughters--Suzanne, Kristin, Elizabeth and Katie, all of whom have or will graduate from college.
"The best advice I gave my daughters was to get a college education," said Leuty. "It's a good life insurance policy."
A member of the Disabled Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sons of the American Legion, Leuty is still serving his country and its veterans.
"(The veterans) gave their time and dedication and were away from their families. We need to give back in service as they've given to us," he said.
Leuty, who drove the Vets Van for about four years, still visits veterans at the VA Hospital in St. Cloud.
He oversees the VFW baseball program for 14-16 year olds. "It's an organized sport for two to three months in the summer. It gives kids some good, basic, supervised activity, teaches sportsmanship, fosters friendships and gets parents involved too, " he said.
Leuty remembers well what Morris was like back in the day.
As kids, he and his friends created their own fun.
"We freelanced in the summer," recalled Leuty. "We'd hop on our bikes and head down to Wells Park, play ball until noon, then home for lunch with Dad. After lunch it was outside again, maybe riding our bikes to Pomme de Terre Park to swim."
Leuty remembers the Huck Finn-style houseboat they made as young teens, crafted from 55-gallon drums and plywood. "We had to look out the front door to see where we were going as we made our way down Pomme de Terre Lake," he said.
Pearl was an elementary school teacher in the Chokio-Alberta schools, but while the Leuty kids were growing up she was a stay-at-home mom. Leuty's father was a dentist in town in the late 1930s.
"He served in the Navy in World War II," said Leuty. There were two hospitals on the west side of Morris--Stevens County Hospital near the former Longfellow School and Morris Hospital--and several clinics headed by Drs. Kooda, Rossberg, Watson and Behmler. His grandfather, Dr. Amos Leuty, was a medical doctor at the Morris Hospital.
"Dr. Behmler (after whom Behmler Hall on the Morris campus is named) was a friend of Dad's," said Leuty. Drs. Behmler and Kooda had a clinic where Thrifty White Drug now stands.
"Pacific Avenue was a main street in town," recalled Leuty. And there was Green's Mill, a flour mill located across the street from Juergensen's Super Valu. "We rode the mill's foot elevator up and down as kids," said Leuty. Willie's Red Owl was on main street by Unger's. There was also a National T grocery store in town, McRoberts Supermarket and a variety of restaurants like The Del Monico and Shorty's, along with municipal liquor stores No. 1 and No. 2.
"I used to set pins at the bowling alley run by Walter Ross that was located across from The Del Monico," said Leuty.
During the 1940s, Stevens County Sheriff Hodd Meyers lived in the courthouse.
"We got the sheriff's permission to go up in the dome of the courthouse on a catwalk to catch pigeons," he said.
When Meyers died, his wife assumed the rest of her husband's term as sheriff, remembers Leuty.
Dr. Robert Leuty was also the Morris mayor for 14 years during the 1950s.
"One of his projects was to build a new municipal liquor store on the site where the Met Lounge is now," said Leuty.
When Estes Kefauver was the running mate of presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, Leuty remembers Kefauver's Morris visit.
"They called them 'whistle stops'. When he came through town, Dad took him to the Armory, then to the liquor store."
Dr. Leuty died when Tom was in the 10th grade. Pearl Leuty died while he was in the military.
More recently, Leuty has been a Morris Transit driver for about nine years.
"I can't just sit around, I have to stay active and I enjoy people," he said.
So what's next for this active Morris native?
"Well, I bought a 400 cc black Suzuki," said Leuty with a smile. "Middle-age crazy, I've always wanted one."