Dr. Don Morris, A Central Coast Living Treasure

Where does Dr. Don M. Morris get his zest? It might be his passionate interest in people and his quest to stay healthy and make things happen.

At 85 years young he recently won three gold medals at the California State Senior Games Championships held in Pasadena, CA. Competing in his age group (85-89), the Shell Beach resident, made 23 of 25 basketball free throws, including 11 of 18 from the three point line. He also won the hot-shot shooting contest. He’s won over 100 medals in the past 33 years competing in track and field and basketball Senior Olympic competitions in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon.

Tolosa Don Morris Senior Olympian & More

In 2009 when honored as the Mt. San Antonio College Alumnus of the Year, the 1950 graduate was said to have “…excelled academically and athletically.” He placed second in the nation in the 400m hurdles in the National AAU Junior Track & Field Championships and third in the 120-yard high hurdles and 220-yard low hurdles at the National Community College Championships. Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo noticed and offered Morris an athletic scholarship where he ultimately earned induction into Cal Poly’s Hall of Fame.

Sports is simply part of Morris’ DNA. As his Elks Club coffee buddies debated who was the greatest Central Coast athlete, Morris decided to ask what the general population thought. He’s gathered 108 nominations. “Many of the men and women athletes have gone on to compete professionally in sports,” said Morris. For example San Luis Obispo High School’s Chuck Estrada signed with the Milwaukee Braves as a free agent in 1956, pitched from 1960-67 playing for the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Club and New York Mets then retired as a pitching coach for the majors.

Morris admits he struggles with ranking the athletes and encourages continued debate, but discovered the value of his quest has been to document the athletes’ history and their connection to the Central Coast. Nominations should be sent to dmmorris@calpoly.edu. Many sports are represented including San Luis Obispo High School’s football player, Ed Brown and golfer, Loren Roberts; Mission Prep’s runner Jordan Hasay; Santa Maria High basketball player Steve Patterson; and Righetti High baseball player Robin Ventura.

Education was Dr. Morris’ career choice. He earned a master’s degree in education at Cal Poly and an education doctorate at UCLA. He was a teacher and principal in San Luis Obispo and Simi Valley, a founding administrator for Moorpark College, and professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. He retired from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as Dean of Extended Education and Professor in the College of Education.

However, retirement simply meant transferring his energy to community organizations – and sports. As program director for the San Luis Obispo Monday Rotary Club and the founder of the Retired Active Men’s (RAMS) Coffee Cabinet, he realized it wasn’t always easy to fill his eleven year tenure of weekly programs with credible speakers. About ten years ago Morris started a web-list of free speakers available on sundry topics. Morris reported, “My website has 250 speakers with programs that are used by over 82 local organizations.” The list is available at http://www.slofreespeakers.com. He added the website has had over 6,000 hits and potential speakers are invited to send in their topical resumes.

Morris believes his most important achievements, however, are related to family and service to his country. “My greatest legacy would have to be being married to Jean, a wonderful San Luis Obispo women, for over 63 years and our having three bright and happy children that are now going through life as productive adults.” They treasure their seven grandchildren.

Morris volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy after graduating from Cal Poly in 1952. He became a naval aviator piloting both carrier-based aircraft and airships. “One of my proudest moments would have to be overcoming my fear and making my landings on the Navy Carrier USS Monterey back in 1953.” He served active duty and Navy reserves for 42 years and by his 1990 retirement he’d been promoted to the rank of Commander USN.

Is it possible the 85-year old is ready to rest on his laurels having achieved numerous accolades, including honored as the 2009 Distinguished Alumni of the Community College League of California? With his never give in or give up philosophy for living, Morris said, “In the next couple of months Jean and I are scheduled to go to the Nevada State Senior Olympic Championships and hopefully we can to to the World Senior Olympics up in Utah.”

We probably don’t need to wish him luck, but we can congratulate him – and Jean — for lives lived well.