MORRIS, Marji; and REISTER, Bill
There are times when you meet two people and, based on the surface, think that they could not be any more different from each other. They have different backgrounds, different careers, different interests. But the more you get to know them, the more you discover that there are small threads that pull them together. Such was the case with Bill Reister and Marji Morris.
Bill was born on February 9, 1946 in Orleans, Indiana to John and Ruth (Hill) Reister. He grew up in the small town of Bromer on a farm. His father worked for the man who owned the farm. Bill’s family never had a farm of their own, and he always wanted to be a farmer. He said, “People who couldn’t afford it always wanted one, though!” Bill had one brother and two sisters growing up, who passed on later in life.
In his elementary years, Bill went to a small two-room grade school in Bromer. “I was the only one in my grade there for a while,” he recalled. When he hit the 9th grade, he had to make a rather intimidating change and start his high school career at Orleans High School. It was kind of a shock for him, he remembered. “I went from being the only one to part of a class of 62 people!” On top of that, Bill was never a huge fan of school. When asked if he enjoyed school, Bill chuckled and said, “All I ever wanted out of school was me!”
When he wasn’t stuck in the classroom, Bill spent as much time as he could on the farm. Not because he wanted to work, necessarily, but because the farm was where the horses were. Every chance he had, Bill would hop on the farm’s workhorses and ride. “I was so fascinated by them,” he said. “That’s all I can ever remember wanting was a horse.”
So, by the time he was 18, Bill saved up enough to purchase a horse of his very own. The beautiful red and white paint was named King. Bill and King did a lot of trail riding at that time, and Bill fell more in love with the hobby each step they took. Thinking back over the years since then, he said, “It’s impossible to know how many horses I’ve had all together. But, since 1964 or so, it’s probably close to 200.”
About three hours away from Bromer was the big city of Indianapolis. Far different from where Bill was raised, in Indy, the rolling country landscapes were replaced by suburban homes and busy streets. This is where Marji Morris was born and raised. Marji was born in 1947 to Albert and Sylvia (Forman) Morris. She grew up with one younger brother.
A lot of her time as a child was spent riding bikes. Around the time she was in fourth grade, Marji remembered moving from their home in town to the far north side of Indianapolis, about 5 blocks from the Hamilton County line. She said, “My friends and I would get on our bikes in the morning and ride off down the streets and wouldn’t be back for forever.”
She remembered one summer when they didn’t have quite as much freedom. There was a point when her mother had to work so they had to figure out what to do with Marji and her brother. The solution ended up being a summer day camp. “At the camp, every Friday you had to go ride a horse or pony,” she recalled, “I didn’t like it. I was so terrified! I went a time or two, but after that I’d fake a headache or go hide out in the arts and crafts room until they were finished.”
But, it wasn’t long before school was back in session and Marji got away from the dreaded Friday activities. She spent her entire school career from elementary through high school in Indianapolis. Unlike Bill, Marji enjoyed school and was a very active young person. Her spare time was often spent doing extracurricular activities. She was involved in BBG, B’nai B’rith Girls, a Jewish youth service organization. “We often had fun parties, carried out service activities, and organized outings, and sometimes cookouts. I got to go to several regional conferences and one national conference.”
After she graduated high school in 1965, Marji went on to continue her education at Indiana University in Bloomington. “IU was affordable at the time, and they had a great reputation for English,” she said, thinking back on why she chose it. English had always been a passion of Marji’s. “When you read, you could go all of these places in your head,” she remarked. What was there not to love?
She finished up her Bachelor’s degree in four years, graduating from IU in 1969. After that, she got a jump-start on her career by teaching in Cincinnati. “I had a really great student teaching experience in Bloomington and really liked it. But I was afraid to complete my Master’s degree until I’d spent time in my own classroom,” she said. So, after two years in Cincinnati, she decided to return to IU to complete her Master’s degree, and finished up her educational journey in 1972.
At the same time Marji was discovering her path, Bill was also busy uncovering his own. When he graduated from high school in 1964, he wanted to stay at his home and remain on the farm. About a year later, though, his plans took an unexpected turn. He went into the Army in 1965 and, all of a sudden, he found himself miles away from his small town atmosphere. He served as a Green Beret in Vietnam. Originally, he was signed up to serve for two years, but he wanted to go to jump school so that added a year to his service.
At that point, Bill no longer worked on the farm, although being a farmer was his dream job. Instead, he worked in construction and then for CSX until 1988, when he began to incorporate his true passion into his work – horses. In 1988, he started his own small business and began shoeing horses full-time. He said, “I enjoy it most of the time. There are always those few horses that you don’t want to do, but you just have to.”
After Marji finished her Master’s degree, she began her teaching career. She taught at Salem Middle School. When she reflected on her teaching experience, she said, “I enjoyed seeing the light bulbs come on and the fact that every single day was different.” Marji tried her best to be an involved teacher in her students’ lives. She was heavily involved in the media fair that took place at Salem each year, and she organized local fairs to encourage more students to participate. One of her favorite subjects to teach was writing, and she said that 7th grade was the most fun for her “because they change so much throughout the year. You can watch them evolve into young adults,” she said.
Fast-forward some years later, after both being divorced from a first marriage, and these two very different people unexpectedly crossed paths. Bill recalled the story of how he was in the Army reserves at Scottsburg. One of the guys there owned a roller-skating rink and was hosting a skating party for a bunch of them to attend. Somehow, Marji ended up at that skating party. “The guys told me to ‘Go talk to her, go talk to her!’ ” Bill said. So, he did. Marji laughed as she retold the story. “He fell for me… several times! When he says he can’t skate at all, he’s not kidding. It’s really pitiful!”
Not long after, the two were married in August of 1979. Bill had two sons from his previous marriage, Jason Rew who was born in 1971 and Matthew Lynn who was born in 1975. Marji never had any children of her own because “180 kids at school were enough!” Once they were married, Bill moved to Salem where Marji was teaching and they started their life together there.
Although it took a little time, Bill eventually helped Marji to overcome her fear of horses and riding that tormented her during those Fridays at summer camp as a child. Horses became one of the threads that pulled them together. Bill turned his hobby into something more, no longer just trail riding like he did with King as a young person, but competing. Marji enjoyed riding with him. Their biggest competition was reining. Bill said, “Riding isn’t just riding. If you compete in a sport, you have to put the time into it. It’s no different than basketball.” Reining allowed them to meet many new people and took them on many different adventures. “We’ve travelled to Oklahoma City, Illinois and Tennessee to compete, and we’ve been to Kentucky and Missouri often.”
Horses were not the only reason that Marji and Bill travelled, though. Travelling was the second thread that brought them together. The two always enjoyed going west. An annual tradition of theirs was to take three weeks in the summer and go on vacation. They travelled to the Four Corners region, to Yosemite in California, and to many national parks in Utah and Arizona. One memorable vacation, in particular, was when they went to Yellowstone. “We saw a grizzly bear and a white wolf fight over a buffalo carcass. We also saw a herd of over 70 wild horses in a different part of Wyoming.” They walked part of the Oregon Trail, as well, in South Dakota. The two both agreed on this one thing: “The further away from people we go out in nature, the happier we are!”
But no matter where their travels took them, the couple always found their way back to Washington County. Marji said, “I thought the city was what I wanted to do all my life,” but “I just feel comfortable here – I feel like this is home. It’s green, I love the hills, and I love living in the country.” Bill said amidst all the beautiful terrain and topography, “It’s just a nice place to live.”
Although Bill and Marji enjoyed some wonderful adventures and memories during adulthood and were able to see many beautiful places, it wasn’t always that way. “Both of us grew up poor,” Marji said. “But it gave us incentive to work hard. Nothing was handed to us; it just wasn’t possible. We had to work hard and push to get some place. And that probably affected both of us.”
Having learned this lesson throughout their lives, Bill and Marji were both huge advocates for working hard, serving others, and leading. Marji was a co-director of Awareness Washington County for many years, where she taught servant leadership. Marji said that her goal was to “leave Awareness Washington County as strong or stronger than it was so that it continues to build more leaders in the community.” Bill was involved in the construction of Riley’s Place, and together they were heavily involved with 4-H. They were Horse and Pony club leaders for a while, and served on the state Horse and Pony committee. For many years, Bill did the upkeep of the arena at the Fairgrounds. They masterminded the building of a new entry booth at the local fairgrounds.
One of Bill and Marji’s closest and dearest friends from 4-H and horse endeavors was Corky Smedley. Corky was a fellow horse fanatic. He was a 4-H leader, trainer, and judge and he had a tremendous influence and impact on Bill and Marji’s life.
To honor Corky and his influence, Bill and Marji established the Corky Smedley Scholarship Fund with the Washington County Community Foundation. In addition to honoring Corky, the fund will help encourage students in the future to pursue higher education and their dreams. It is designed to provide scholarships to local youth interested in pursuing equine studies.
The scholarship fund is one way that Bill and Marji hoped to contribute to the betterment of Washington County for future generations. Marji said, “I think our job is to leave the world in better shape than it was when we got here. Doing good things for others for the community is why you’re here.” To follow after one of her favorite quotes by Muhammad Ghandi, she said, they simply wanted to do what they could to “be the change they want to see in the world.”