Easy Ed and Me
A few years back, legendary NBC journalist and political analyst extraordinaire Tim Russert wrote a book called “Big Russ and Me” as a tribute to his World War II veteran father that also contained valuable life lessons from his childhood in working class Buffalo.
It’s a great book for anyone who appreciates the wisdom that can be passed between generations, along with humorous and poignant stories and the can-do attitude and characters that shape countless communities around the country.
Holidays like Father’s Day seem like the time we can celebrate the regular, everyday folks who make our community such a great place to live and work. In thinking about Father’s Day this year, I considered how my father and his upbringing on Milwaukee’s Eastside have influenced my life and impacted others, similar to the Russerts in Buffalo.
My dad, Ed Morgan, was so well liked by some of my friends growing up, he earned the nickname “Easy Ed” due to his easygoing attitude in almost any situation. While we both can fly off the handle with the best of them, especially on the golf course, he actually taught me to take it easy in most situations.
My dad is part of the tail end of the “Greatest Generation” of the World War II era, as he was drafted into Army for the Korean War in 1953. As a dad who passed his love of sports on to me and my older brother Tom, he often recalls how he was riding a bus out of town for the “service” on the same day that the brand new Milwaukee Braves baseball team was riding in.
While my dad never saw combat in Korea, he was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where his duties included working with athletic teams allowing him to see some great athletes of that era. There were college and NFL players on the football team, which was coached by a young entrepreneur named Al Davis, as well as young superstar Willie Mays and future Milwaukee and national broadcasting superstar Bob Uecker playing baseball on the base. He and Uecker still share the same local barber, who gave the best “brush” haircuts that were popular at the time.
While I was lucky enough to be at my wife Janice’s side when each of our three sons was born in Milwaukee in the 1990s, it was a different world in the 1950s when many dads like mine couldn’t return from the military for the birth of their children, or else they likely just nervously paced and/or smoked in the hospital waiting room.
Though my dad couldn’t make it back to Milwaukee for my brother’s birth in 1954, he did help take his Army buddy’s wife to the hospital, which resulted in a classic Easy Ed story. When her water broke in the car, my dad apologized to his friend and wife thinking he had an “accident” due to the nerves of the situation. I guess kids actually were a bit more sheltered in certain ways back then.
One way in which my dad wasn’t sheltered in Milwaukee of the 1940s and ‘50s was when it came to hanging out with friends and running the Eastside streets. My brother and me, and many of our friends, have heard the stories of my dad’s “Rummies” group of teenagers lifting hubcaps from cars, couches from the Oriental Theater or a police boat on the Milwaukee River. Luckily, none of those stories resulted in any jail time and hopefully, the statute of limitations has run out several times over.
When my dad returned from the service, he and my mom Jean settled in the Northlawn housing project, which was one of those set up for young families of military veterans. I often drive by the Northlawn area, which lies near our sons’ Little League fields and think of my parents and brother starting our family there in the late 1950s.
Easy Ed and Jean eventually moved the family to Whitefish Bay, to what had to be one of the smallest houses in the Village on the south end of Elkhart Avenue. I was born in 1962 and my earliest memories are of that house where my brother and I shared a tiny “bedroom” in the attic. We had our share of fights in those days, especially being eight years apart in age, but he eventually became a close second to my dad when it came to seeking advice about any number of problems or issues over the years.
While my dad never went to college, he insisted that my brother and I get that level of education. As a young father, my dad sometimes worked several extra jobs including umpire, referee and bartender to support the family. He also got a job as an elevator operator at Northwestern Mutual downtown and as he likes to say “worked his way up from there.”
He helped start a union of office workers at Northwestern Mutual and his contacts eventually got him a job selling insurance. That experience along with hours and miles spent traveling and calling on people and businesses around the area and state led him to a long and successful career in the local insurance industry, including the American dream of owning his own business.
Now retired for over a decade, my dad focuses on things like golf, sports, travel and the rest of the senior lifestyle, he enjoys nothing more than watching the success of his six grandchildren in school, sports, music and other activities. He also remains hard at work passing on the stories of his youth and career in Milwaukee and valuable lessons like nobody said it was going to be easy, treating people the same way that you would want to be treated, and going the extra mile to help someone who needs it.
Whether it’s Easy Ed, or any other dad in Milwaukee who does their best for their family, it’s a good time for me and every other son or daughter to say “thanks dad!”