To appreciate the latest Claude Morris tale, you have to know that he’s not generally a fan of dogs.
So last week at the Festival of Trees, when Morris, 72, began bidding on a large, fluffy puppy - the kind that will chew bed slippers for the next two years - his wife Linda leaned over and asked, “Claude, are you all right? Have you had an aneurysm?”
Not at all.
Morris was doing what he loves best: giving to his community.
He paid nearly $400 for the pound puppy and promptly bestowed it on his fellow Rotary member Monique Kolonko, who is manager of the Mission Ridge Assisted Living Center.
Money raised at the auction will go to the causes adopted by this year’s Festival of Trees: the Valley Center of Sharing, Hugs to Health Sick Day Care at Valley Hospital and Medical Center, and the new Valley senior center and universal park at Mirabeau Point.
And the friendly pup, announced Kolonko, will benefit the elderly residents of Mission Ridge. After asking permission from Morris, she named the three-month-old husky-German shepherd “Claude.”
So these days, if you ask Kolonko about Claude, she’ll ask for clarification: “Do you mean Claude the human, or Claude the dog?”
Morris is widely known in the Valley for having managed the Valley Hospital Foundation from 1981 to 1992. And more recently for his involvement in the Valley Center of Sharing. He’s also hip-deep in a campaign to make a Valley church debt-free, and to bring a series of Olympic games for senior athletes to Spokane.
Morris is that rare bird, someone who thrives on raising money for a good cause.”What happens to me is that I fall in love with these causes,” he says.
Like many a successful Spokanite, Morris was raised in Montana. After World War II and college in Minnesota, he went to work for the Toro Corp. and worked his way up to vice president for marketing. When he resigned in 1970, he came to Spokane to buy the Toro distributorship here. He also was asked to serve on the board of St. Luke’s Hospital, which then acquired Valley Hospital.
That volunteer position led Morris to the Valley Hospital Foundation and a whole new world - the world of non-profit agencies and fund-raising.
“I discovered that I love fund-raising,” Morris says, comfortable in his plaid wingchair.
Four or five Wall Street Journals are stacked on his footstool, waiting to be read. They just may stay unread. The Morrises will head south after Christmas. Before that, there’s the St. John Vianney campaign to complete. At $620,000, it’s close to its $700,000 goal.
The earliest planning on next year’s Festival of Trees also starts next week. The Valley Rotary Club took over the event this year, more or less at the last minute, after Valley Hospital bowed out. Morris knows exactly how to run the affair; he’s the one who launched it 11 years ago.
He happily predicts that, with effort, the event will grow under Rotary to the point that it will net $100,000 a year. “And Rotary will be able to support any community effort they please.”
As one of perhaps three nationally certified fund-raising executives in Spokane, Morris knows about picking and choosing among non-profits. Plenty of them, he says firmly, aren’t worth supporting.
Those he works for must meet three rules. “One, that they have a compelling cause they’re supporting. Two, that they have a committed board and staff. And third, that they are able to recruit the number of volunteers it takes to stage a campaign.”
Why does Morris work at cause after cause?
“I think it’s out of gratitude for what I’ve been given in this life.”
He has six children and 10 grandchildren, at last count. He met and married Linda, his second wife, 13 years ago. She rates one of his favorite adjectives: magnificent. As in: “I have a magnificent wife.”
And in a different way, fishing on Priest Lake is also magnificent. Morris makes a point of fishing daily in the summers.
Morris is also aware that earlier in life, he could have taken a different path.
“I was a rebellious young person,” he says. A runaway at 14, he joined the Merchant Marines. He’d been expelled from several schools. “I could have been a seaman the rest of my life. I enjoyed the ocean.”
But the urge to educate himself propelled him into the Navy, for the GI Bill, and on to college.
“When I pray, I rarely ask God for anything. I thank God for what he’s given me.”
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