By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Iris Morgan has many reasons to call Muskogee home.
The main reason could be the family she didn’t know she had until she was in her 40s.
Morgan, 69, grew up in Oklahoma City and California with her adopted family.
Her mother was very young when she gave birth to Morgan.
When Morgan found her birth mother as an adult, she was welcomed into a whole new family. She lived in Muskogee for a few years after meeting the new family, then returned to California. In 2005, she came to Muskogee to stay.
“I feel rooted here,” she said. “I lived in Sacramento for 30 to 40 years. It just wasn’t home. When I came back and found my mom, it was like finding that missing piece.”
Morgan lives with a friend in a house that brims with collectibles and garage sale items. Shelves at the front door hold Morgan’s collection of Painted Ponies. She has a dining room table, chairs and hutch that she bought for $300 — “next to nothing,” she said.
She also tends to a spacious yard.
“I’m happiest here when I am on the John Deere mowing,” she said. “When I lived out in the country, I used to brush hog.”
Morgan has held several jobs since her move back to Muskogee. She was a night-time house parent at the Murrow Home.
“Those kids were there not because of something they did. They were there because of family situations,” she said.
She now is the manager of Eufaula Monument. She said she feels that with this job, she’s helping people.
“I’ve lost a lot of people in my life,” she said. “And I understand what they are going through.”
Meet Iris Morgan
CAREER: Retired after 34 years at AT&T; currently manager of Eufaula Monument.
EDUCATION: Graduated high school, Chico, Calif., 1962; One year at Chico State College.
FAMILY: Son, Mike Thrall, two granddaughters.
CHURCH: Grace Episcopal.
HOBBIES: Golf, fishing, going to garage sales.
Finding a connection
between two families
The link between Iris Morgan’s birth family and adoptive family began before she was born. Her birth mother stayed with the adoptive parents in Oklahoma City during her pregnancy.
Morgan does not know how the two families got connected.
“I never questioned my mom about it,” she said. “It didn’t matter.”
She recalled her adoptive parents as “the best parents in the world.”
“My adoptive mother had five miscarriages, so the doctor said ‘no more,’” Morgan said. “And she was older; she was 36 when I was adopted.”
They lived in the country in northwestern Oklahoma City. Morgan recalled going hunting and fishing with her adoptive father. She was their only child.
“We had an aunt and uncle with 10 children. And we don’t consider ourselves cousins. We were more like sisters,” she said. “It was seven girls and three boys.”
When Morgan was 13, her adoptive mother died.
“I didn’t even know I was adopted until after my mother died,” she said. “One day, my dad sat me down and started crying. He said, ‘I need to tell you something. ... You’re adopted.’ And I said ‘OK,’ and it was like no surprise whatsoever. I never really thought about it after that. It was like I knew, but I didn’t know.”
One summer, an aunt took Morgan aside and said, ‘I’m taking you to see your mother.’”
“I wouldn’t go at that point,” she said. “I just wasn’t ready to deal with it. It was a shock. At that point, I thought it would be disrespectful to my adopted mother.”
to the road home
Morgan was 44 before she started looking for her birth parents.
“I started to realize that medically, I needed to know my family history,” she said. “We’re all diabetics in the family.”
She said she also was waiting for her son to graduate from high school.
“I finally found time to do it,” she said. “It was a slow process. I’d get so far, and I’d run into roadblocks.”
She said she went to a judge in Oklahoma City to help her clear obstacles. She recalled the judge asking a number of questions including “Are you prepared for rejection?”
“I looked at my birth certificate, at their jobs. Hers was ‘house cleaner,’ his was ‘newspaper carrier,’” she said.
Morgan said a breakthrough came when a friend placed an ad in the Muskogee Phoenix saying “anyone know the whereabouts of Barbara Bornheim.”
Later, the friend gave Morgan a letter from Morgan’s mother. It included a phone number. Morgan resisted calling her mother at first. A representative of ALMA (Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association) told her to realize she that was opening “a kettle of fish.”
When Morgan called her mother, she asked the woman what her name was and whether she had a baby.
“I said, ‘I think I’m your daughter,’ and she said, ‘I think you are,” Morgan said, recalling that they talked for about an hour.
Those first few conversations were awkward, Morgan said. She said she didn’t know what to call the woman.
“I didn’t want to think I had replaced my adoptive mother,” she said. “In two or three months, I called her Mom.”
Morgan said her birth mother’s family welcomed her when they first met. She said that when she walked into the house, her new brother said: “You can’t deny she’s part of the family. She looks just like Mom.”
Her adoptive family reacted differently.
“Their first question was ‘You’re not going to leave our family,’” Morgan said.
The two families ended up united.
“One of my adoptive aunts and uncles was celebrating a major anniversary in Kingfisher, so all my birth family came to the anniversary and everyone got to know each other,” she said.
Morgan used to fly her mother to California for yearly visits. She recalled one trip to San Francisco when a relative took them out in a boat. It went under the Golden Gate Bridge.
“And I had no idea she was afraid of the water,” Morgan said. “She was kind of like me. Don’t tell me I can’t do something. I’ll do it.”
Morgan moved to Muskogee for the first time when her mother’s health began to decline. She had lost a leg to diabetes and her sight was declining. She moved in with her sister.
Morgan had returned to California when her mother died — on Mother’s Day of 2003. Morgan’s adoptive father died on Father’s Day.
In 2005, Morgan returned to Muskogee. At first, she lived on a 55-acre ranch with cattle, horses and goats. But her roommate, who worked at the Department of Human Services, didn’t have time to manage the ranch. They then moved to their home in northern Muskogee.
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“Finding my birth family and becoming a part of that family, becoming a part of the community.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“The people. I absolutely love the people. They are warm and inviting, a pleasure to be around. I never met a stranger in Muskogee.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“Less crime. We don’t have so much, but when we do have crime, it’s rather nasty.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
Manager of Eufaula Monument.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“I like to travel to places in Oklahoma where I’ve never been. I watch ‘Discover Oklahoma,’ and I go see what Oklahoma has. To me, Oklahoma has so many beautiful places people don’t know about.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“Chris Cummings. The son of my roommate. He’s an incredible man who always has time to help us. Whether it’s us or his wife’s family, he helps.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“The first time I met my family, walking into a house full of people and they were like ‘Hi.’ They were so accepting.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“If I were young, I would want to raise my family here. There is a good religious environment, good education environment.”