October 26, 1999
When Robert Morgan died the other day at his home near San Jose, California, it closed an interesting chapter in the story of this little prairie community. Bob Morgan, a native of Arkansas City, Kansas, never lived here, but he married a Perry girl and he had a special feeling for the family and friends who claimed our city as their hometown. With a little twist of fate, he could have become a real Noble county resident, but plans do not always develop as we sometimes dream them.
Bob graduated from the University of Oklahoma law school. While a student there, he met Willa June Hall, an attractive and intelligent Perry girl, and in due time they were married. Willa June, who survives, is the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. O.R. Hall, and her daddy was president of the Exchange Bank & Trust Co. Bob and his wife were frequent Perry visitors, even after he established a very successful law practice on the West Coast. The history of our town and its traditions fascinated him and he decided to become part of it.
Mr. Morgan was not a promoter in the sense of one who hatches an idea and uses it to make money for himself. He was a dreamer, and he foresaw great things for Perry. In his vision, he pictured a redesigned downtown business district structured around the traditional Southern courthouse square. He saw a pedestrian mall with walkways unhindered by vehicular traffic, new shop buildings and offices to replace some of the existing, but tired, places of business located there. An architect's sketch showing elements of his proposal was offered for consideration by the merchants, property owners, city leaders and anyone else interested in the plan.
Some said the changes were too radical and feared that some of our cherished landmarks, like the old Grand Opera House, would have to be razed. Their historic significance was important to him, too, but like the old Opera House, some seemed to be beyond redemption. But decisions about such steps were left to others. Bob urged a community dialogue leading to a consensus, with individual participants taking whatever steps were needed to effect a change that would enhance this city.
The proposal never really caught fire and so it was shelved. Now steps are being taken, through the Perry Main Street organization and others, to brighten up our business district and to restore and preserve much of the interesting historical architecture around the square. It's not part of Bob Morgan's concept, but he would be pleased to see what's happening.
That was not the only part of his dream. He created, organized and established the Triton Insurance Co. with home offices in Perry. Key executives were recruited and moved here, and the old First National Bank building (the "Foucart building") became its headquarters. Later, the so-called "Nicewander building" on the north side of the square, where the Oklahoma IOOF organization now has its grand headquarters, became the home office for Triton. An AM/FM radio station was brought into existence with studios on the second floor of that building. The north exterior wall became a unique king-size mural featuring a map of the state of Oklahoma. Bob, whose passion was Morgan horses, hoped to build a breeding farm north of Perry, in the Billings vicinity, which would include a retirement home for him and Willa June. He also spoke of establishing a licensed business college in Perry.
Sadly, most of his hopes and dreams for shoring up and adding to Perry's economy never materialized. Triton Insurance fell on hard times, the downtown project never really took off, and Bob's health became such a problem that he was a semi-invalid at a fairly young age. He maintained close contact with the Hall family and others in this community and for several years he has been an honorary member of the Perry Rotary club, but his business interests here were reduced by necessity. He also was a dynamic civic and cultural leader in the San Jose area.
Had his health not failed, Bob Morgan undoubtedly would have pursued his dreams for Perry. Every community can use such visionaries, even though they are not residents of our town. Bob's exciting energy and relentless pursuit of an elusive goal will be missed here and in San Jose. We offer condolences to Willa June and the others in his family.