Submitted by: Leanna Ihde
From the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, May 3, 1951:
LONG ILLNESS FATAL
DEATH CLOSES BUSY CAREER OF FINANCIER
FUNERAL SERVICES WILL BE HELD SATURDAY
Ernest M. Morris, 68, of 1237 East Jefferson Boulevard,
founder and chairman of the board of Associates Investment
company, widely known for his philanthropies, died in Memorial
Hospital at 2:55 o'clock this morning following a long illness.
Death was announced as due to cerebral hemorrhage and kidney
At his bedside when he passed away were his wife and daughters. They are Mrs. Ella Morris and Mrs. Robert Oare of South Bend, and Mrs. Oliver P. Carmichael of New York.
Mr. Morris had been suffering from a chronic condition for the last two years and had recently returned from New York where he had been a patient at Doctors Hospital. He was stricken with his fatal illness in the early morning hours of April 24 and was rushed immediately to Memorial Hospital.
Friends may pay their respects to Mr. Morris Friday evening between the hours of 5 and 9 o'clock when the body may be viewed at the residence. It will be moved to First Presbyterian Church at 10 o'clock Saturday morning to lie in state until 2:30 p.m. when funeral services will be conducted by Rev. Charles Tupper Baille, D.D., pastor. Burial will be in Riverview Cemetery.
The death of Mr. Morris brings to an end a career typically American in that his life was typical of the American success story. He was born in a log house on a Marshall county farm about 25 miles southwest of South Bend Dec. 17, 1882. When he was 11 his mother died and he spent the next few years on one farm and another working for his board and room.
Through it all he determined to get an education and by the time he graduated from country school he had saved $50 which enabled his to enter Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind. He graduated in 1905.
After teaching school and working during one summer in the wheat fields of South Dakota he was able to attend the University of Notre Dame law school from which he received his law degree. Upon graduation he began the practice of law in South Bend and became interested in Republican politics and government. In politics he worked for the election of Fred. W. Keller as mayor on the citizens' ticket and as a reward was appointed in 1913 president of public works during the Keller administration.
This position carried with it an annual salary of $1,200 on the strength of which he was married the same year to Mill Ella Lousie Keen, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Although he eventually became a member of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Morris never ran for public office.
It was in 1917 that Mr. Morris founded the Associates Investment company, which under his guidance has grown to become the third largest independent finance company in the United States. For the first year he was the president, treasurer, new business solicitor, credit investigator and the clerical force and there were times when it seemed the struggling company was doomed for failure.
The idea for Associates came from Frankfort, Ind., where a group of men had invested $1,000 each to engage in quick real estate turnovers. The idea as presented by Mr. Morris proved popular with his friends except there were few who had $1.000 to invest and at the end of the first year the Associates corporation, as it was known then, was still struggling.
Soon thereafter the realty company was dissolved and a finance company established. There was no such company in South Bend at the time with the result that the fast growing automobile business found it necessary to arrange financing in Chicago, Fort Wayne, or Indianapolis. The name was changed to Associates Investment company and the capital increased to $100,000.
The task of raising the capital of $100,000 fell to Mr. Morris, who literally covered the county and surrounding territory in his effort to interest investors. One of his calls took him to a Laporte, Ind. automobile dealer whom he caught in a rage because none of the finance companies had gotten out a simple sales contract and rate chart showing the monthly payments.
"I didn't get any business from that call," Mr. Morris recalled in later years, "but I was much impressed by the soundness of his suggestion. I did prepare a simple sales contract on which neither the buyer nor the dealer had to sign his name more than twice. No other finance company had such a simple contract or rate chart."
Mr. Morris said that was the first big break his company received. The second came when he succeeded in obtaining a $100,000 line of credit from a Chicago bank.
"I wanted $100,000 but would have taken $50,000," he recalled. "If I couldn't have gotten that, I would have taken $25,000, but I got the $100,000"
Some years later Associates had what Mr. Morris called its third big break. It came when he was called to Chicago by a banker who told him frankly that the company was making so much money in relation to its capital that he wanted to send two auditors to South Bend to check its accounts and records. The audit was made, everything was found to be in order and the company was complimented on the way it was operated. This endorsement had a salutary effect on the growing business of the young company.
Due to what it felt was bad adjustments on the part of insurance companies, Associates organized its own insurance company under the name of Emmco Insurance Company. As the finance business grew, the National Association of Finance companies was organized in 1926 with Mr. Morris as president. Some years later when it was succeeded by the American Finance Conference, Mr. Morris became its first president.
When America entered the second world war Associates became the first company of its kind to purchase a manufacturing plant. Plants in Fort Wayne and Muncie, Ind. produced projectiles, fuses, anti-tank mines, depth bombs, propeller shafts, ships' winches and 16-inch steel projectiles weighing 2,700 pounds. The manufacturing division received the Army-Navy E and two stars for continued excellence in production.
During these years, Mr. Morris never lost sight of South Bend and while many of his charities have never been made public he always gave generously of his time and money. Almost every fall found him in the front lines of Community Chest workers and even during the last few months he had given encouragement to the organization of the United Fund of St. Jospeh County which hopes to raise funds for all major agencies in one campaign next fall.
There was at least one occasion, however, when Mr. Morris stepped into a local situation that had far reaching effects o n business and the life savings of thousands of persons. It was in the dark days of the depression of the 30's when bank everywhere were in serious troubles. Such was the case in South Bend when he agreed to assume the presidency of the tottering First National Bank and Union Trust company on April 20, 1931. At the time Mr. Morris was not a stockholder in either of the banks but he yielded to the urging of his friends on the basis that whatever he could do to help would be a civic service.
A few weeks later it was found necessary to liquidate the Union Trust company. The banking departments informed the two institutions it would be necessary to separate the place of business of the First National bank from the Union Trust and that $1,000,000 would be needed to add to the capital structure of the First National Bank if it was to remain open.
Previously Mr. Morris had acquired a substantial interest in the Indiana Trust Company and he realized it would take fast action if the depositors in First National Bank were to be saved. He and the late Vincent Bendix provided necessary funds to the capital structure of the Indiana Trust Company so that it could assume the deposit liability of the First National Bank. It was agreed that the Indiana Trust Company shod change its name to the First Bank & Trust Company and at the same time liquidate the assets of the First National Bank.
All of this was accomplished while most of South Bend was asleep on the night of June 4, 1931. Before morning banks had been moved from one location to another. At 6 a.m. there was still much to be done. Printers were called from their beds to print the proper forms and deposit slips. By 9 a.m. all was set and at that hour on June 5, 1931, the First Bank & Trust Company opened its doors for the first time; the Union Trust Company was moved to new quarters and the First National Bank passed into history.
Notable was the fact that every depositor in the First National Bank received 100 cents on every dollar on deposit and South Bend was saved from a financial disaster that could have had far-reaching effects. A little known fact, except to his intimates, is that in all the years Mr. Morris served as chairman of the board of First Bank & Trust Company he never accepted a cent of compensation. Under his guidance the bank has prospered until today it ranks as one of the outstanding banking institutions in the middle west.
In the field of charities the Morris gifts are almost unlimited and were topped by his presentation to the University of Notre Dame a year ago of $1,000,000 for the Morris Inn, now being built on the campus. In the earlier days he was instrumental in reorganizing the old Coquillard Country Club into the Morris Park Country Club; financed the Indiana Club when it consolidated with several other clubs and bought its present home at 320 West Jefferson Boulevard and with Mrs. Morris founded and financed the E.M. Morris School for Crippled Children in Tippecanoe place, which he purchased and presented to the South Bend board of education.
Mr. Morris was vitally interested in medical research and early this year established the Morris Chemical Research Foundation at the South Bend Medical laboratory. His gift provided for the equipping of a room in a new wing of the laboratory and with the gift was an endowment to provide chemical research in the detection, treatment and cure of disease. The room is in the process of being equipped and will be put into use within the next few weeks.
For years Mr. and Mrs. Morris have provided a turkey dinner for the members of First Presbyterian Church, a dinner from which the church has realized great profit. He gave buildings to Camp Tanandoonah, the Camp Fire Girls summer camp at Birch lake near Vandalia, Mich., and several years ago built a stone cabin at Camp Eberhart, the Y.M.C.A. camp at Corey Lake near Three Rivers, Mich.
Following his gift to Notre Dame a year ago, Mr. Morris received appeals from all over the United States. All were investigated and many of the letter writers received personal checks. A few months ago he informed three friends that he would like their advice on extending his charities. At the time of his death several propositions were under consideration. He also organized the Morris Foundation last year in the expectation of using it to further numerous civic enterprises.
In his latter years Mr. Morris became interested in the arts. With Mrs. Morris he turned over the second floor of the Morris School for Crippled Children to the South Bend Art Association, Inc., and presented the association with a number of paintings by Indiana artist to be displayed in two rooms known as the Indiana rooms. He also actively supported Mrs. Morris in the creation of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra and for years has been one of its principal contributors.
While Mr. Morris never ran for public office he was greatly interested in the Republican party. He was elected to the national committee from Indiana in 1940; was removed in favor of the late Robert Lyons, one-time Ku Klux Klan officer in 1944 and was re-elected over Lyons at the national convention in Chicago the same year when Lyons was forced to resign. Mr. Morris retired from the committee two years later.
At Notre Dame Mr. Morris was a member of the board of lay trustees for many years and in 1947 was elected its chairman. The board is composed of outstanding businessmen from all parts of the country and acts in an advisory capacity to the university administration on investments and financial matters.
Several years ago he was the recipient of an honorary law degree from the university.
In addition to his South Bend home, Mr. Morris owned a farm on the St. Jospeh River between Niles and Buchanan, Mich., where he spent many enjoyable hours. Several years ago Mr. and Mrs. Morris bought an adjoining farm, formerly owned by the late Eugene Clark, of Buchanan. It became a gathering place for their many friends during the summer months when they made it their residence.
In 1938 he constructed on the farm a replica of the church near Teegarden, Ind., in which his grandparents, the late Mr. and Mrs. Morris, worshipped and which he attended as a boy. Both of his daughters were married in the church. Numerous services of a non-sectarian nature are conducted there.
Surviving Mr. Morris in addition to his wife and two daughters are five grandchildren, Nancy L., Ernest M. and Robert L. Oare, Jr., children of Mr. and Mrs. Oare, and O.P Carmichael III and Carmi Carmichael, son and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael.