Inspiring Okeechobee: The Morgan Family fills some very big shoes

OKEECHOBEE — There is an old saying people use when someone new steps in to take over the job of someone who was doing that job perfectly. The saying is, “He sure has some big shoes to fill.” In the Morgan family, both Lillian and Audley (A.M.) Morgan left behind some very large shoes for their children to fill, but fortunately, every one of their children seems to have large feet!

The Morgan family, mom, dad and all nine children. Circa 2001.

Recently, the Morgan children reminisced about their father’s habit of buying houses while they were growing up. They said he would buy one, fix it up, sell it for a huge profit and buy another one. They never knew when they were going to move. A.M. enjoyed a challenge.

Their home was always the house all the kids in the neighborhood flocked to. They remember one time when they sat down to eat, and someone took their dad’s plate right out from under his nose. He turned to his wife and said, “Lil, it’s time to move!”

Lillian and A.M. moved to Okeechobee from Shunk, Pa. in 1976. A.M. worked at Tropicana as a truck driver and Lillian worked as a waitress at T&M Truck Stop out on U.S. 441 South.

Beginning in 1978, the kids started moving down as well, and since there were nine children (Steve, Wanda, Cindy, Kathy, Jim, Sharon, Linda, Mike and Gordie), it was practically a Morgan invasion. A.M. bought Pop’s Restaurant in 1978 and changed the name to Morgan’s Restaurant. Most of the daughters worked at the restaurant along with some aunts. The Morgan sons-in law went to work trucking.

In 1981, A.M. sold the restaurant, bought the old cannery on Park Street and with help from all the kids, turned it into a new and used furniture store where Morgan’s Furniture is today.

A.M. had a good head on his shoulders and knew how to make money. His mother passed away when he was only 16, and he was only able to go to school through eighth grade, but he did his best to help take care of his four younger sisters after his mother’s death.

Linda Morgan Weir said, “If there is one thing Dad taught us, it’s how to work hard. Dad was a hard working man.”

His son Steve joked, “Remember how he sold me the furniture store, and then told me I had to buy the lots out back if I wanted to use the back doors?”

Gordie said, “that’s nothing!” “I came home from school one day and found out I owned a truck…… at 8 1/2 percent interest!” Gordie also said he never knew when his dad was going to tell him “I’m gonna need the next three payments today.”

Daughter Wanda chimed in, “you think that’s bad, right after Claude and I got married, Dad told me he was moving, and I was buying his house!”

Despite the joking, it was obvious how much they all loved and appreciated their parents and the things they were taught as they grew up. All of the Morgans have grown up to be successful members of the Okeechobee community.

If not for the Morgan family, Okeechobee would be missing many local businesses:
• Morgan’s Furniture- Steve, Wanda, Wayne and Kristi Morgan
• Piper Screen Printing & Embroidery- Christina and Chuck Morgan
• Downtown Venue (coming soon)- Steve and Wanda Morgan
• Green Leaf Irrigation- Tombo and Wendi Riley
• Lawn Pro of Okeechobee- Kim and Steve Hargraves
• Rafter T-Cattle Co.- Kim and Steve Hargraves
• A Child’s World’s Child Care – Sharon and Claude Poirier
• Create and Decorate- Beth White
• Trinity Photography- Linda Eveleth
• Solar Waterworks- Josh Eveleth
• Don’s Appliances- Mark and Rebekah Weir
• Morgan’s Guide Service- Gordie and Malissa Morgan
• Morgan’s Inc.- Jim Morgan
• Wally’s Automotive Repair- Cindy and Sam Crouch
• Sam Crouch and sons Drain Fields- Cindy and Sam Crouch

Many members of the family have chosen to go into fields that serve the community in a different way. Earl Wooten is fire chief, and Jeremy Morgan, Wesley White, Chuck Piper and Josh Eveleth are all firefighters. Jarrett and Keith Morgan are both in the middle of firefighter training and are volunteer firefighters.

Wanda and Bill Lewis run Okeechobee Parks and Recreation.

Jennifer Staley is a registered nurse. Linda Eveleth is an occupational therapist, and Christina Duncan is an x-ray tech.

LaDonna Wooten and Malissa Morgan are teachers, and Malissa is presently serving on the Okeechobee County School Board.

Malissa and Gordie, along with their two sons Justin and Jarrett have been organizing the local Toys for Tots drive since 2000. Malissa said she was teaching at Yearling at the time and realized no one was doing it so she checked into it, and they have been doing it ever since.

About four years ago they almost ran out of toys so she started organizing the Gala, which is a fundraiser for the toy drive. Malissa said most of the family helps with that. “When someone needs something, it’s all hands on deck,” said Malissa. “Like the Three Musketeers, only a lot more of us,” said Wanda.

It’s been many years now since the family lost Lillian and A.M., but they taught their children to be an inspiration to those around them. Their children have taught their own children the same lessons, and Okeechobee is a better place thanks to the Morgan invasion of ’78.

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