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Glenn Morris

Glenn E. Morris Story

By Gordon A. Hazard

On September 11, 1936, a special ceremony took place at Colorado Field to welcome home and honor Glenn Edgar Morris following his winning of the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.

Glenn Morris was an outstanding student-athlete at Colorado State in the early 1930s.  Morris’s meteoric climb to international stardom began in Simla, a tiny farming community in southeastern Colorado. He was born on June 18, 1912 in Missouri. He came to Colorado Agricultural College in the fall of 1930 and quickly established himself as a star football, basketball and track athlete, helping the Aggies win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference football championship in 1933 and twice earning all-conference honors as an end. Following the 1934 season he became the first Aggie player ever selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game.

Morris was so popular on campus he was elected President of the Student Body, and he earned a BS degree in Economics and Sociology. At one point Morris appeared destined for a successful career in professional football, but a trip to the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles changed his course. He became fascinated with the decathlon, the grueling 10-event competition designed to celebrate all-around athleticism.  In the summer of 1934 he was hired as a student assistant in the Physical Education Department.

Following his graduation in June 1935 (B.S. Economics and Sociology), Morris began training under the watchful eye of legendary coach Harry Hughes, working out nearly every day in the Field House on South College Avenue to master the many events. He broke the American record in his first decathlon at the Kansas Relays in the spring of 1936, and then set a world record (7,880 points) at the United States Olympic Trials in Milwaukee.  In March 1936, Aggie Alumnus and local businessman Arthur C. Sheeley announced that Glenn Morris was now a salesman at his Chrysler-Plymouth automobile dealership at 330 South College Avenue.  This provided Glenn with money to live on while he trained for the upcoming Olympic Games.

Despite being an American, Morris quickly became a favorite of the German crowds during the Berlin Olympic Games.  He competed at such a high level that even Adolf Hitler became fascinated with him and would not leave his seat until Morris completed his events.  Morris won the two-day competition with 7,990 points, shattering his own world record – a mark that would stand for 14 years.  Eva Braun presented him with his laurel and gold medal.

He was Colorado’s first Olympian, and his win in the decathlon earned him the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete.” He was named the 1936 winner of the Sullivan Award, given annually to the nation’s top amateur athlete, beating out legendary 1936 Olympic champion Jesse Owens.

Morris' remarkable rise to fame included ticker-tape parades in New York City, Denver, and his native town of Simla, Colorado. In October 1936, NBC signed Morris to a contract to be on their radio network.  In April 1937, Glenn Morris signed a $500,000 Hollywood contract to play Tarzan alongside fellow Olympian Eleanor Holm in the film “Tarzan’s Revenge.”  This Tarzan movie showcased Glenn Morris’ lack of acting ability and was one of the least popular of the many made.  He had a minor role in a comedy film “Hold That Co-ed”. This was the extent of his a brief Hollywood career.

Glenn followed this with a four-game professional football career with the Detroit Lions that was derailed by a knee injury. He then worked as an insurance agent for a while.  With the outbreak of war, Morris enlisted in the Navy and using what he had learned as an ROTC cadet at Aggies, rose to the rank of Lieutenant while serving heroically in Pacific Theatre during World War II. Never the same after his war experience, he worked in construction and lived a quiet life in California following the war. Glenn Morris died of heart failure on January 31, 1974 at age 62 in the VA Hospital at Palo Alto, California.  He is buried at Skylawn Memorial Park at San Mateo, California.

He was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1969, and he was in the inaugural class of the CSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. The Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame inducted him in 1998, and he was added to the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2007.

Each of the 128 gold medal winners in the 1936 Olympic Summer Games was presented an oak seedling by their German hosts to be planted in their native lands.  Glenn Morris received one of the 24 won by the United States and kept his on the long ocean voyage back home.  He traveled to Fort Collins, and in a ceremony at Colorado Field, donated his oak tree to his alma mater and presented the seedling to President Charles Lory on September 11, 1936 at a Welcome Home ceremony.  The Aggie Cannon was fired in his honor and President Lory was quoted as saying, “We accept this in the spirit you gave it and we shall treasure it for what it means to you and to the state.”

Originally the tree was to be planted by Morris a few days later on campus near the front of new Student Union on the Oval.  However, he had to leave on a tour of the country by several Olympic athletes.  The Rocky Mountain Collegian said in its next issue that the seedling would be placed in the College Greenhouse to grow larger before being planted.  From that moment on, there is no record of the seedling ever being planted and its fate remains a mystery.

Some historians feel that because the seedling tree was from Hitler, it may have simply been discarded by a campus worker as trash or it may have been lost in the September 2, 1938 flood when flood waters washed through the campus including the greenhouses behind the Horticulture and Botany Building. 

Colorado Governor Ed Johnson had asked Glenn Morris to allow the seedling be planted next to the State Capitol building.  Morris declined saying that he wanted it where he had received his fundamental training.

 

Nearly 74 years later a tree was finally planted.  On May 10, 2010, a seedling oak tree was presented to, and “planted” on the CSU campus.  It was grown from a second generation acorn of one of the original 1936 Olympic oaks.  The tree was provided to serve as a living monument to the man many consider the greatest athlete the state of Colorado has known.  The tiny tree was one of three given to CSU by Dr. Don Holst, the 1968 Olympic decathlon coach and Olympic Historian. It is a descendant of the trees given to all 128 gold medal winners at the1936 Summer Games in Berlin to be planted in their native lands.  One of the seedlings was planted on the lawn south of the newly renamed Glenn Morris Field House.  The other two were said to have been moved to a greenhouse to grow larger and stronger in a more protected environment.

Dr. Holst, a retired college professor of Education, did extensive research on the Olympic oak trees and has grown second-generation trees from acorns acquired from surviving trees around the world. As of 2010, four of the 24 trees given to American gold medalists remain alive in the United States, including one in Connellsville, Pa., which produces fertile acorns.  An acorn from that tree was grown to maturity in Indianapolis at Butler University and now an acorn from that tree is back at CSU.  A seedling was also donated to the town of Simla, Colorado at the 2010 ceremony.  Dr. Holst has also donated second-generation trees to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, USA Track and Field headquarters in Indianapolis, and a handful of colleges and universities associated with 1936 United States gold medalists.  The site selected on the CSU campus is on the hillside just south of the Field House where Glenn Morris trained and starred as a track athlete.

On April 22, 2011, the CSU Field House was rededicated in a ceremony.  It became known as the Glenn Morris Field House.  To prepare for the ceremony, the Athletic Department spent $7000 to wash all of the windows in the building.  It had likely been twenty years since this was last done and visitors marveled at how good the old building looked.  Many of Glenn Morris’s family attended the ceremony.  His Olympic Gold Medal was presented to CSU by the Simla High School Principal.  It was placed in the Archives and Special Collections until the summer of 2017 when the new Michael and Iris Smith Alumni Center opened at the new on-campus stadium.  On Friday, October 27, 2017 a sibling oak tree donated by alumni Tim and Ellen Buchanan was planted outside the Smith Alumni Center.  Tim, the Fort Collins City Forester, had grown the eight-foot tall tree in containers in his backyard over the past six years.  Unlike its small sibling struggling to survive on the lawn south of the Glenn Morris Field House this tree was strong and tall.  The University now had two Glenn Morris Oak trees planted on the campus.

Although a small black dog appears in several baseball and track team photos during the 1920s and 1930s, no official mascot represented the Aggies for several years after the demise of “Peanuts” in 1918.

In September 1936, Glenn Morris, Olympic champion and Aggie alumnus, presented his alma mater with another white English bulldog named Gallant Defender. Now the Dean of Men, Dr. Floyd Cross again stepped in to care for the dog and provided him with a green and gold cape emblazoned with a large “A”.  Gallant Defender faithfully served the College as its second bulldog mascot.  Given to Morris in September 1936 following his gold medal performance at the Berlin Olympic Games by the Denver Kennel Club, this bulldog was almost identical to “Peanuts”.  His collar read “A Champion for a Champion.”  Gallant Defender appeared to be around for just one or two years as little was ever mentioned of him again.

Sources

(State Board of Agriculture Minutes, August 24, 1934, page 160)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, March 18, 1936, page 2 , vol. XLV, number 25, advertisement telling about Glenn Morris working at Art Sheeley’s car dealership)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, April 15, 1936, page 4 , vol. XLV, number 30, Glenn Morris to compete in Kansas Relays)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, April 22, 1936, page 4 , vol. XLV, number 31, Glenn Morris breaks U. S. and Olympic Decathlon records at Kansas Relays)

(The Colorado Aggie Alumnus, August 1936, pages 1 and 3, vol. 17, number 3, by Alfred Westfall)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, September 11, 1936, page 4, vol. XLVI, number 1)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, September 16, 1936, page 1, vol. XLVI, number 2)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, September 30, 1936, page 1, vol. XLVI, number 4, Gallant Defender story)

(Rocky Mountain Collegian, October 21, 1936, page 5, vol. XLVI, number 7)

(1937 Silver Spruce, vol. 32, pages 158, 166, photos of Gallant Defender)

(“Democracy’s College in the Centennial State – A History of Colorado State University” by James E. Hansen II, 1977, pp. 323-326)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Morris, accessed May 5, 2017)

Images of Glenn Morris

May 1936

1932

1934

Glenn Morris Day on Campus with President Charles Lory and Bill Wagner, September 10, 1936

Presentation of the Olympic Oak, September 10, 1936

Bill Wagner, left; Charles Lory, center; Glenn Morris, right

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