'He left an indelible mark of goodness.' Remembering Galesburg teacher known as 'Mr. Bill'

Brothers Bill, left, and Bob Morgan prepare to cut a cake honoring them at Churchill Junior High School in September 2010. The school gymnasium was dedicated and renamed Morgan Gymnasium in the honor of the two legendary coaches.
Jay Redfern
Galesburg Register-Mail

A longtime Galesburg junior high school teacher and coach affectionately known as Mr. Bill is being remembered for his impact on thousands of former students and players.

William G. Morgan Jr. died at 8:17 p.m. Friday, July 22, at his Galesburg home surrounded by friends and family. He was 91.

Obituary: Mr. William G. MorganMay 28, 1931 ~ July 22, 2022

Morgan teamed with his younger brother Bob to form the legendary Mr. Bill and Mr. Bob teaching and coaching duo at Churchill Junior High School for much of the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Along with his late wife Lorraine, the Morgans also spent 20 summers managing the former Lake Lawn Swim and Tennis Club.

District 205 honored the Morgan brothers in 2019 by naming the Churchill gymnasium Morgan Gym.

"Bill Morgan was admired, loved, and respected by his family, his friends, his students, the athletes he coached, and his fellow coaches," said Barry Swanson, a former Galesburg High School basketball coach, teacher and administrator. "He left an indelible mark of goodness and decency everywhere he went."

Born May 28, 1931, in Cambridge, Ohio, Morgan later moved to Galesburg where he graduated from Galesburg High School in 1949. He then graduated from Western Illinois State college (now Western Illinois University) in 1954 where he played basketball. After college, he served his country in the United States Army during the Korean War.

He married Lorraine E. Stromquist in 1953 at the First United Methodist Church. She preceded him in death on Sept. 13, 2021. His obituary said, "for 68 years they did everything as a team — they were true partners in every sense of the word."

Looking backChurchill gymnasium named for legendary Morgan brothers

Bill Morgan a lifelong mentor to many

Brothers, Bob, right, and Bill Morgan, visit with each other after a photo session in the Churchill Junior High School gymnasium.

Former Streaks all-stater Eric Johnson, a longtime family friend who played at Churchill in the late 1970s, will speak at Morgan's funeral service on Saturday.

"The guy just loved youth, and I think that's what he's most remembered for. He built character and work ethic in people. Yeah, he was tough. But everybody respected him because he was fair.

"I can't say enough about him as a mentor. I would go to him all the time for advice, especially after I was out of school. And wouldn't you know it, whether it was right then, or a few weeks or even a few years down the road, what he told me turned out to be spot on. He would always say, "what's meant to be, it will be."

The Erickson-Morgan Traveling TrophyTraveling trophy proper tribute to Churchill, Lombard coaches

Johnson last spoke with Morgan about three weeks ago.

"He was the same old Coach Bill," Johnson said. "Always positive. We ended the conversation like we always do, saying we loved each other. He was a true father figure to me. I could call him anytime. I'll really miss him."

Streaks all-stater: Playing for Morgan changed his life

Bill, left, and Bob Morgan, play around in the Churchill Junior High School gymnasium after posing for portraits.

Morgan was the first coach for Scott Kelley, an eventual all-stater for the 1976 Silver Streaks team that reached the Elite 8 in Champaign.

"Coach Bill was the first coach I ever had. I was the last man on the 8th grade team at Churchill that year," said Kelley, now associate dean for faculty affairs and professor of marketing at the University of Kentucky. "To this day, I remain grateful that he kept me on the team.

"Playing for him on that 8th grade team literally changed my life and created and helped prepare me for athletic and life opportunities in the years to come that I simply would not have had without the start he gave in my 8th grade year. Years of open gyms at Churchill and working for him for a few years at Lake Lawn made me a better player and person. I am forever grateful."

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Kelley and Morgan were enshrined in the Galesburg Athletic Hall of Fame in the same class.

"What was a very special night already was even more special because it became a full circle moment that I was able to share with the guy who was responsible for my start," Kelley said.

'The things that he taught you were as important and lasting as it gets'

Himself a former longtime Churchill teacher and coach, Steve Cheesman said he learned many life lessons from Bill Morgan.

"It is nearly impossible to put into a few sentences the legacy that he has left and the influence he has had," Cheesman said. "I have never known a person that has made such a deep and enduring impact on so many. He had a way about himself that made you want to listen and learn from him. The things that he taught you were as important and lasting as it gets.

"Whenever I speak with someone who grew here and is now living somewhere else, the first question they ask is 'how are Coach Bill and Coach Bob doing?' Besides my dad and father-in-law, no one has had a greater impact on me than Bill Morgan."

'Open gyms' at Churchill were legendary

Swanson's first association with Bill Morgan came when the Morgan brothers opened the Churchill gym to current and former Galesburg players on weekends.

"Through the years an array of great players entered into those scrimmages and the competition was fierce," Swanson said. "At first, Bill was just one of those players. Bob and Bill invited Craig Johnson, and my personal heroes, Rick Callahan, Frank Dexter, and other fine, older players to the gym, and they would push us to the limit.

"I loved those Sundays and those battles. That kind of competition made all of us better. Bill and Bob continued to do that through the years. They produced some outstanding athletes in basketball, football, track, and baseball. As a varsity coach, I appreciated that their players were always fundamentally sound and ready to compete and win."

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Swanson said Bill Morgan had a great sense of humor.

"Playing with him on Sundays was entertaining," Swanson said. "He would actually do play-by-play as we were scrimmaging, even when he was playing. He also was the self-appointed referee — he actually was an official, and a good one. His world-famous traveling call always cracked us up."

'Bill was also his own man'

William "Bill" Morgan wears his signature Chicago Cubs hat. The longtime former Churchill Junior High School teacher and coach died Friday, July 22, 2022. He was 91.

While Mr. Bill and Mr. Bob forever will be remembered as a tandem, Swanson noted the brothers had distinct and separate personalities.

"Bill and Bob were the dynamic duo for sure, but Bill was also his own man," Swanson said. "As I got to know him during my adult years, my admiration for him only grew. He and wife, Lorraine, ran the Lake Lawn Swim Club with the same precision and discipline Bill exercised as a successful coach. The Morgans were respected and loved in that arena, just as Bill was as a teacher and coach.

"Bill was kind and humble, but he would give you a straight answer if pressed. I always found his advice to be wise and no-nonsense. He was hard-working and, whether coaching or managing the pool, he was fair-minded."

Morgan is survived by his children: Craig (Melissa) Morgan of Lisle, Illinois, Cary (Denice) Morgan of Fort Mill, South Carolina, Curt (Teresa) Morgan of Alpharetta, Georgia, and Candy Morgan-Dailey of Galesburg. Also surviving is his brother, Robert L. Morgan of Indianapolis, Indiana, and his 11 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Hinchliff-Pearson-West Funeral Directors and Cremation Services. Services will follow at noon at the chapel.

"My dad used to have a saying about people he admired," Swanson said. "For example, he would say, 'Bill was a prince of a guy.' Pretty sure dad would have said that about Bill and I agree. Bill was a gentleman through and through."

My thoughts: Mr. Bill a one-of-a-kind personality

Coach Bill Morgan and our 8th grade Churchill Junior High School basketball team of 1976-77.

Mr. Bill was my gym teacher and eighth-grade basketball coach at Churchill in the mid 1970s, so I had many of the same connections with Mr. Bill as did the aforementioned people interviewed for this story.

For years, I would often see Bill and Lorraine doing one of their favorite things — just riding around in the car, enjoying the sights and scenes of Galesburg. They never failed to honk the horn and wave, flashing big smiles. But I'll never forget the time I ran into Mr. Bill at Hy-Vee. It's been a few years, but I had written a story commending Bill and Bob for their service as coaches. Bill teared up as he thanked me for the article.

No, on behalf of thousands of other students you impacted at an early age, thank you, Mr. Bill.

Like your brother Bob, you will remain a one-of-a-kind personality who occupies a lifelong space in my memory bank.

Jay Redfern is the managing editor of The Register-Mail.