The life of Jean Morris was an absolute triumph.
She was a talented musician, wise leader, caring wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend. She conducted herself with poise and grace. She made everything beautiful.
Joretta Jean Rutherford was born on a Sunday to parents Robert and Orella Rutherford, May 3rd 1931. She was one of three siblings. The middle child between her older sister Dot and younger brother Jim.
The family lived at 606 Market street and she had fond memories from this house. They lived close to an uncle who had been in the cavalry and when she was little, he would let her ride his big cavalry horse up and down the alley.
In elementary school she received a valentine with a few pennies in it from a young Eugene Morris, but the two didn’t really speak again until high school. More about that later.
She attended Elizabethtown Schools and was in the graduating class of 1949, “The 49ers” as they called themselves.
Her senior class yearbook states the following:
“Tri High secretary, in the girls chorus, the mixed chorus, girls’ vocal ensemble, girls sextette, girls trio, the junior play, the senior play, senior orchestra, string ensemble, band front, literary staff.
It goes on to say that she was “poised, capable and looks up to anyone who is over 5’2 … superior pianist, violinist, constantly losing ensemble music, Mr. Klaus’ prodigy, our leading lady in both plays, staunch supporter of the US Navy, the alto Member of the Girl’s Trio, expert twirler and high-stepping captain of the majorettes …”
She was, of course, a staunch supporter of the Navy, because her then sweetheart, Eugene was stationed in Key West, servicing submarines. The two hadn’t spoken much since he sent her that elementary valentine, but in 1948 he asked her to his senior prom.
On their 2nd date he picked her up in a ‘34 Chevy and the roof was leaking and rain was dripping into the car. So she opened her umbrella inside the car.
She was always so poised and proper that these little moments of mischief in her life really stick out. Opening the umbrella in the leaky car - Or, when she worked at the grocery store down the street and she and her friends would open the jars of hot fudge and take just a spoonful out and then put the lids back on. There was just a spoonful of mischief in her.
After high school, Jean attended West Chester University, before transferring to Central Penn Business School. She then worked at the Marietta Transportation Depot. Jean and Eugene got married at The UCC church and after they married they moved into a little trailer at State College. She worked at Rec Hall until Eugene graduated. She met Joe Paterno on one of his first days on the job and befriended Rosie Grier who played for the football team and then went on to play for the New York Giants. On her last day at work, Rosie asked her to make him a coconut cake because “he just really wanted a coconut cake” and she said “Oh Rosie, I would, but today is my last day.”
The family moved to Baltimore and Michele was born. Lindsey came along 2 ½ years later. The family resided in Baltimore from 1956-1962 until they moved down to Houston where Eugene got a job working for IBM assigned to NASA. The space program was taking off. When the family prepared for the move to Texas Jean and Eugene went down to look at houses one weekend. They didn’t find anything they liked and she had to fly back to Pennsylvania. He continued looking and called her and said “I found the house.” She said “alright, but at least send me the blueprints.” When she saw the blueprints she recognized the house immediately. It was a house she found in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine long before they were looking for houses. She had saved the magazine. Turns out the place he liked was her dream home.
The family enjoyed their time in Texas and Jean made sure that Michele and Lindsey got to be a part of the important space related moments. When the Apollo mission orbited the moon, she pulled the kids out of school for the parade. She told them “This is history.”
The family also attended the party in the Astrodome after the successful moon landing. It was an opulent celebration - Frank Sinatra performed at the party.
Yes, there were some really magical moments in Jean’s life and my theory is - it’s because she is one of God’s favorite people.
God’s Favorite Person:
She was incredibly talented. She won so many state competitions in her string ensemble that they were asked not to return to give the other groups a fighting chance. She could play a Scott Joplin rag on the piano, was a fantastic singer, could sew complicated patterns, needlepoint, and tend a huge garden. She could even recite long poems from memory. Who else gets that much talent - except for one of God’s favorites?
Natural wonders would occur on her birthday. On 2 separate occasions there was a double rainbow on her birthday. On another birthday, a family of foxes came out of their den to greet her.
Animals loved Jean. From the injured baby bird that she nursed back to health and fed with an eye dropper, to all the many dogs in the family. Animals always know. One of God’s favorites.
She almost never took a bad picture. Effortlessly flawless in every photograph.
And then there was the valentine that turned into a 61 year marriage and the house plucked out of a magazine.
There were charmed moments in her life for sure. It’s not that her life wasn’t hard. She had her fair share of significant challenges over the years. But I think God gave her a little wink and a nod sometimes, because she was so willing to tend to the flock, to rise to the occasion, to meet a need, and to hold space for people.
Jean had worked to save up money for their first trailer at Penn State. When they sold it, Jean agreed to give the money to Eugene’s parents so they could put a down payment on a prefab house. They continued their generosity by helping several generations of the family pay for college.
Service and Leadership:
Some people get jobs, some people have careers, some of us even have a calling. Jean had divine appointments. Rarely did she seek out opportunities, but when she discerned that her gifts were needed she answered the call.
As a young woman she was recruited to play the carillon at the UCC church. She would walk down the street at night, past the old mill where some vagabonds were taking shelter to get to the church. She would play music that would travel out over the town at night. Her sister would often walk with her and her mother would watch from the 3rd story window of their house to make sure she got home safely.
In Texas she filled the need of a children’s choir director and developed such a remarkable reputation that even Catholic and Jewish families sent their kids to sing in her Methodist choir.
Here at St. Pauls’s she again filled the need of a choir director even though she was apprehensive because of how busy she was.
She, along with my dad trained up a group of musicians here and because of that the church was able to put on elaborate musicals and cantatas. They even made a movie at one point.
She was on the administrative board here and was a formative member of the kitchen committee. She was a lay leader and would participate in the baptisms. She would walk the babies around the sanctuary after the baptisms and the pastor commented that the babies stopped crying once she came around. She told him “I put warm water in the baptismal font”. So the babies stopped crying. That is how she embodied her leadership. Quietly. And yet it made all the difference.
When the family moved back to Pennsylvania in 1971 after their time in Texas, they rented a house for a while and then bought the property off Radio road that they had for many years. The farmhouse was equipped with a sink in the kitchen, a basement shower, and an outhouse. They went from moon landings and astronaut parties to needing to refine the indoor plumbing. On that property they eventually built her dream house again and also the apartment buildings. This is the place where I remember her, the big house on the hill, with the garden and the wind chimes blowing in the breeze.
She was phenomenal at so many things - But where I think she excelled the most is in her role as a grandmother. Of the 8 billion people in the world - only 4 of us get to say that Jean Morris was our grandma.
She would take my sister and I to the library. She told us the car wouldn’t get up the hill unless we pedaled our feet in the back seat to power the car - so we did. That was a little bit of mischief for her. She would make us those little soft pretzel bits with the melted cheese in the middle. There was candy everywhere - for all major holidays. She would read to us during nap time. She tried to read to the boys, but they weren’t interested in nap time. We could play outside for hours and when we came back to clean up she would pour little dixie cups of cold water over the top of the shower as a prank. Again, she had just a little bit of mischief in her.
Holidays were tremendous. Every Christmas she prepared a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and each of us got a pile of gifts wrapped to perfection.
In the summer they would take the whole family to the beach. In the winter she would watch us sledding down the big hill from the window of the grandkids room.
Most importantly, Grammy always told the truth. Grandma and Grandpa had a firm verbal agreement that he could tell as many tall tales as he wanted, but she would always tell the truth.
So we would sit at the kitchen table and he would tell us stories and fibs and we would turn immediately to her like we were watching a tennis match. She would nod yes or no. This was important because some of his stories were outlandish and the most unbelievable tales were actually true. Through it all, Grandma never told a lie.
We trusted her. One time when my sister and I were little we went on a walk with her to the upper field and the weather changed. A storm kicked up and we grabbed her hand and turned for home. It was a long walk for our little legs and we both shut our eyes to keep out the rain. We walked that way the whole way home. Eyes shut, because we trusted her. Completely.
Because - In a world that can be so tough, she was strong enough to be kind.
In a world that can be so harsh, she was courageous enough to be caring.
And when she was called into service and leadership she was brave enough to use her gifts and answer the call.
In Her Final Days:
She was granted a sneak peek into heaven. She shut her eyes to sleep and then when she awoke she said “I went somewhere . .. it was beautiful.”
She also said she saw family members, she even saw her mom.
At one point she sat up in bed and applauded over her head - seeing or hearing something spectacular just beyond the veil.
At another time, she sat up in bed - looking past us once again - her whole face lifted, her eyes got wide. And she smiled. She waved over her head and looked like she was greeting loved ones from far off in the distance. I believe she was.
So, if you ever wonder or worry about what happens to us when we die - or if we see our loved ones again. We do. We go somewhere beautiful - and all our people are waiting for us.
I know this is true because she told us.
And grandma doesn’t lie.