Memoir written about Madera orphans


For The Madera Tribune

We Were the Morris Orphans,” written by Kathi Morris.

 

On July 2, 1968, a Madera family of 12 lost its mother and father to a drunk driver on a drive to Fresno. Test driving a new-to-them car, the accident left the couple’s 10 children orphaned in a matter of minutes.


The eldest daughter Kathi Morris has written a memoir “We Were the Morris Orphans,” Subtitled “4 Brothers, 5 Sisters and Me.”

Dedicated to the memory of her parents, Robert Gene and Joyce Angela Morris, the volume is Kathi’s heartbreaking story of being a 17-year-old girl suddenly responsible for nine younger siblings while mourning her dead parents.


Ranging from ages 3 to 17, the siblings at the center of this tragedy are/were named Kathi, Judy, Linda, Carole, Theresa, twins Roberta and Robert, Mike, Jeff and Eddie. In the chaos that ensued, the thing the children wanted more than anything was to stay together as a family. The tragedy made the national news with families across the country offering to adopt the Morris Orphans.


A trust fund was established by the Bank of America in Madera with the assistance of a close friend of the family, Evelyn Massetti, nee Bergon. After the story aired on a segment of the Walter Cronkite News television program, the contributions to the trust increased rapidly, said Kathi.


The Madera Tribune provided daily coverage of the on-going story with an ever-increasing total of the trust fund reported as well. The volume includes reproductions of newspaper clippings and photographs of the day.


Special acknowledgements of The Madera Tribune and the late Patrick O’Rourke for the cooperation with this aspect of the project are included. O’Rourke was the Tribune’s news photographer and retained many negatives of the coverage. Many of the photos printed have never been seen before and the clippings are from 1968 forward.


In the aftermath of the accident, family members who showed little interest in being guardians for 10 foundlings suddenly showed up when the reality of the trust-fund-cash became known. Several relatives assumed responsibility for the children, and then had roofs replaced, new carpeting laid, kitchen appliances installed and other expensive items bought before backing out and leaving the children at the mercy of other relatives and the maneuverings of strangers in social service agencies.


In the beginning, the average stay with foster parents was approximately five months, said Kathi. All the questionable guardians mentioned in the book have since died, she explains.


One of the greatest heartbreaks of children’s ordeal was the lack of counseling, either by professionals, members of their family or the clergy. The family were devout Catholics, members of the St. Joachim Church and the children attended St. Joachim’s School for their elementary school and San Joaquin Memorial for parts of high school.


There are heartbreaking photos of the 10 children dressed in their Sunday best attending the funeral mass alongside the caskets of their dead parents. A similar photo appears on the cover with the children kneeling at the prayer rail.


It has taken 53 years for Kathi Morris to bring the story of her life and the drama of her extended family to the public.


The book “We Were the Morris Orphans,” was released Tuesday and will be available at WalMart and is shipping from Amazon. The 320 pages have a cover price of $17. Kindle and Audiobooks formats are also available at a lower rate.

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