If David Wallace can be considered the architect of Monmouth College, then Marion Morrison would have to be his general contractor. Born in Ohio in 1821, Morrison met Wallace when they were fellow students at Miami University. Twelve years later, Morrison was called to be the first professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the new Monmouth College and actually arrived at Monmouth prior to President Wallace, where he was able to supervise construction of the original college building on North A Street.
Throughout the next seven years, Morrison was not only the backbone of the college faculty, but one of its chief fundraisers. After the Civil War broke out, Morrison became the college’s financial agent, traveling widely to solicit funds for the struggling institution. In 1863, at the invitation of a former student, he visited the 9th Illinois Infantry camp in Tennessee, where he so impressed the officers of the regiment that they asked him to become their chaplain.
Morrison accompanied the regiment through the brutal Atlanta campaign, ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of soldiers, who suffered the heaviest loss of life of any Union regiment in the Western theater. He also kept a journal of the regiment’s actions, which was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1997 and makes for an exciting read.
The physical strain of the war took a toll on Morrison, who spent a year recuperating in Monmouth before journeying to Lacon, Illinois, where he took charge of the United Presbyterian congregation. In 1870, he moved to Iowa, where he engaged in missionary work for eight years, and was finally called to Mission Creek, Kansas, where he remained until 1890, building a tiny congregation into a thriving church.
Morrison’s brother James, who also emigrated to Monmouth from Ohio, greatly admired Marion and named a son in his honor. Marion Mitchell Morrison grew up in Monmouth and enlisted in Co. B of the 83rd Illinois Infantry, where he served valiantly, receiving saber wounds in the chest and neck and bullet wounds in the head.
After the war, Marion Mitchell Morrison returned to Monmouth, where his son Clyde was born in 1884. Clyde would grow up to be a pharmacist in Winterset, Iowa. It was there in 1907 that his wife gave birth to their first child, naming him Marion Robert Morrison, in honor of Clyde’s father. The third in the line of Marion Morrisons would become by far the most famous of the trio, starring in more than 150 films under the stage name John Wayne.
In conducting further research about Professor Morrison, I learned that he and his great nephew John Wayne shared something in addition to their birth names—both wore hairpieces and both were sensitive about it. Once, when Monmouth College students stole Professor Morrison’s wig as a practical joke, he refused to appear in public until he had sent off to Chicago for a replacement. John Wayne, the story goes, was once asked by a Harvard student if he was wearing a cheap hairpiece. The Duke reportedly replied, “It’s true it’s not my hair, but it sure as hell wasn’t cheap.”