Trains are a Passion for Rev. John and Karol Morris
Rev. John and his wife, Karol, have a passion for trains. For John, it started with the first Lionel train he shared with his brother as kids. In the 1960s, he gave his son a train set and later bought two train sets for $40 at a garage sale. However, as a Lutheran pastor living in a parsonage, there wasn't usually a space to set up tracks and all the other pieces that go with a train collection. "We carried them around in suitcases for about 40 years," says Karol.
That changed when the couple retired to their own house in Napoleon Township, Michigan, near Jackson. Their huge walk-out basement was the perfect spot to finally provide a home for his train collection which covered a space of 27 feet by 34 feet.
John enjoys setting up the track and being the engineer. His oldest train engine dates back to 1918. Karol, on the other hand, loves to create the scenes. She even painted a sky and clouds on the walls of their basement and built houses, factories, mountains, and more to complete the displays. "I just love adding the details," says Karol.
At Christmastime, the Morrises opened their home to share their sixteen model trains with the public. While admission was free, many of the visitors made donations which benefited the Jackson Habitat for Humanity and Jackson Chorale Vocal Music scholarships. Over the years, it became an annual event, attracting over 4,000 visitors and raising approximately $20,000 for these charities.
When the couple moved to Chelsea Retirement Community two years ago, they had to scale back their train collection, and gave four complete trains to the St. Louis Center in Chelsea. They kept two sets for themselves and still get them out at the holidays. The train track is set up permanently in their living room, where their train makes a loop around their Christmas Tree. And they still hold an annual Open House to invite friends and neighbors to enjoy the trains. "We've had 130 visitors already this year," says John.
John and Karol are members of the Lionel Operating Train Society and have traveled all over the country to attend train conventions and ride old-fashioned trains. When they are not busy with trains, they are also active singers in the Jackson Chorale. John continues to lead the monthly Lutheran Service at Chelsea Retirement Community, which he has done for the past 15 years. Both John and Karol agree: "We love our apartment here and the friends we have made."