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Think right, do right

Solon’s “Shoe Guy” Greg Morris, honored as Iowa’s Firefighter of the Year
Solon Volunteer Firefighter Greg Morris adjusts the throttle on the pump panel of Solon Engine 132 during a rural water supply class in April 2018. The Iowa Firefighters’ Association named Morris, a third-generation Solon firefighter, the Iowa Firefighter of the Year last month. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

SOLON– Greg Morris had a lot of titles over the years: husband, father, ardent fans of University of Iowa athletics know him as “The Shoe Guy,” volunteer firefighter, and now he’s added another.
Morris, from Solon, is the 2019 Iowa Firefighter of the Year.
The Iowa Firefighters Association (IFA) presented Morris with the award Saturday, April 13, during the group’s Mid-Year Business Meeting at the Marriott Hotel, in Coralville. The IFA represents approximately 15,500 volunteer and career firefighters from across the state. Morris, who was invited under the pretense of speaking at the meeting about the fundraising efforts for Solon’s new fire station, had no idea he’d even been nominated for the recognition and was blind-sided when his longtime friend Don Scott, from Redfield, made the announcement.
“Incredibly humbled and amazingly surprised. It was a big, incredible surprise to me,” Morris said. “To even be considered is one thing, but to get it… wow.”
While he’s not sure who nominated him, Morris learned several of his fellow firefighters knew about it and made it the best-kept secret in Iowa. Meanwhile, he organized a brief presentation to be delivered at the end of the day.
“I know what the IFA is about, and to be considered to speak at the Mid-Year Meeting, in my mind, was a very big deal.”
As the day wore on, he began revising his speech in his head, and was absorbed as Scott rose to speak, “For the Good of the Association.”
Morris was seated at a table with Solon Fire Chief Bob Siddell on one side of him and Second Assistant Chief Jim Donovan on the other.
“So, I’m not paying attention to what Don’s saying. And all of a sudden I hear, and this guy has a firefighter’s helmet in front of him with two (University of Iowa) Tiger Hawks on it. And I started thinking, what is this all about? Because I can’t picture too many people in the state of Iowa having a helmet like mine on their desk, but I’m sure there are. And then he said, ‘It is with great pleasure and honor that I announce the 2019 Iowa Firefighter of the Year, from Solon, Greg Morris.’ And, I was speechless, which people who know me know, I’m not speechless.”
While Morris tried to find his voice, Siddell and Donovan, both grinning ear-to-ear at him said in unison, “We got you.”
He made his way to the stage and met the officers of the IFA, all the while in a state of shock.
“I was really, really, really overwhelmed, because, never in my wildest dreams,” he said. “Never, ever, ever.”
He did work in a roughly two-minute plug for the new station in his remarks. Through it all, he did not notice his family- wife Lynn, sons James and Jake, and Taylor, James’ wife- were seated in the audience. A carefully coordinated effort throughout the day had kept them out of his sight.
“It was really cool to have them there, especially for the boys to see it, especially because they knew growing up, that there were times I’d miss family dinners or Easter and everybody’s sitting down and I had to go out the door,” he explained.
It was a reality he grew up with as his Grandpa Chuck Shimon was a 50-year member of the all-volunteer department, and his Dad Bob, originator of the department’s famous Pancake Breakfasts, was on for 17 years. The ringing of the fire phone, the tones of the home alert monitor, later the tones and beeping of a pager, all were part of the soundtrack of his life growing up.
Morris joined the Solon Fire Department in 1980 and was on for 10 years before moving to Iowa City. He returned to Solon in 1999 and re-applied with the department, which readily welcomed him back, and he’s been at home ever since for 30 years in total.
“We’ve had great support and help from our community,” he said. “And I believe that is the reason why we’ll get our new firehouse built.”
Morris is as passionate about the new facility as his Grandpa Shimon was when he and other Solon firemen signed a personal bank note to build the first two bays on the north end of the current station.
Morris has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon and vowed to be among the first four firefighters to spend the night in the new station’s dormitory, once it’s built.
“I do it at 58 years young, I still believe I can help people,” he said. “I still think that when you get in the fire service, you do it because you want to help people.”
He expressed gratitude to past chiefs Jim Huber, the chief when he first joined, Steve Lee and Dan Smith, along with current chief Siddell for their faith and confidence in him.
“I’ve had an incredible opportunity to serve a community, that is a great place. I’ve had an incredible opportunity to serve with great people. If you just think about all the good people in this community that we’ve had a chance to help. You can’t go wrong living here,” he said. “Think right, do right. As long as I can remember, that’s been the backbone of our community, and our fire department is no different. Think right, do right, and you can’t go wrong.”
The fire service in general and the volunteer side of it in particular is unique, Morris said. “There is no other group, anywhere, where at the drop of a hat you can get help. And I mean within minutes.”
Since receiving the honor, Morris had time to do a little introspection regarding his 30 years in the fire service, the chiefs he’s served under, and the men and women he’s responded with, the people he’s helped and the ones nobody was able to.
“It made me realize, in the end, it’s all worth it.” And, as he puts on the department’s Facebook posts, “Proud to serve, and happy to help.”