The American Dream: A retiring fellow

DeWayne Bartels
Mike Morrow and his wife, Rhonda, pose at the Central House of the Peoria Fire Department.

It was 2:15 a.m. Jan. 23, 1983. Mike Morrow manned a firehose at an intense fire in the 700 block of North Main.

Morrow’s partner on that line was Capt. Vernon “Butch” Gudat.

Well above the two men on the ground was a firefighter manning a line in an aerial truck.

Without warning, the wall Morrow and Gudat were hosing down collapsed. Both men were buried under burning debris.

The firefighter in the aerial truck rained water down on the two men and kept his eye on their location to direct rescuers.

Morrow awoke in the hospital with a severe concussion, broken bones and joint damage.

Gudat was not so lucky. The fire claimed his life.

Morrow spent six months recuperating from his injuries. At some point during that time he realized something.

“I suddenly went from a point where I said, ‘This is a great job,’ to a point where I said, “This is my calling.”

Morrow said, last week, he realized then he was living The American Dream.

From guilt to understanding

Morrow, 58, a North Peorian, retired Oct. 19 with 30 years, five months and 12 days of service with the fire department behind him. He retired as a battalion chief.

Morrow said after Gudat’s death he walked around for years with survivor’s guilt.

“But, eventually, I came to realize this was what I was meant to do,” he said.

Since that night more than a quarter century ago, Morrow said, he has thought about The American Dream.

“To me The American Dream is that no matter who you are you have the opportunity to be, and, to do whatever you want to do,” he said.

As Morrow contemplated The American Dream he said it was his father, Ed, who instilled that belief in him.

“Dad was a World War II veteran. When he came back home he was a line man for Illinois Bell. He married my mom, had kids, and built a life around service. His creed was, ‘Be honest, work hard and opportunity will come to you,’” Morrow said. “He wasn’t about riches.”

Morrow, after graduating high school ion 1969 joined the Marine Corps. He was 19.

“I was suddenly thrust into the real world,” Morrow said. “It didn’t take long for me to realize Dad was right.”

Living it

“I have lived The American Dream,” Morrow said. “The reason I feel that way is I have had a long and successful career with the fire department. I have a wife, kids and 10 grand kids. To complete a career I loved and now have time with the family is a dream.”

Morrow said his career was successful because he was serving the public, just like his father did for the phone company.

“When I walked out of here I had no regrets,” he said.

Morrow said his definition of The American Dream has not changed over the years.

“For me, it has never been about money. It was about following what was in your heart,” he said. “You and your dream should never be limited by anything.”

He paused.

“I had a God-given second chance,” Morrow said. “I was glad to do my duty.”