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January 2007

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Cathy Morgan: 'Help out' is her middle name

By Libby James

About Community Cornerstone Nominations

The guys on the Roosevelt National Forest trail crew call her the cookie lady. Jane Clark at the Legacy Land Trust counts on her to "lick and stick" whenever there's a mailing to get out. The finances of the Fort Collins Running Club would be in a shambles, and the dogs and cats at Larimer County Humane Society would be drinking their water and eating their food out of dirty bowls, if it weren't for Cathy Morgan.

"Help out" is her middle name. Even so, the Fort Collins woman still has time to play and laugh and travel, befriend every animal she meets and pursue a list of "love to dos" that would make any ordinary person flop over and lie quietly on the ground.

After 22 years of teaching, Morgan took the plunge and retired early. "It was quit or burn out," she said. "I loved the kindergarteners, but dealing with the parents and politics that went along with the job was stressful for me."

A careful saver, Morgan had been stashing money away during her teaching years knowing that one day her basic inclination toward play rather than work would assert itself. While waiting for her pension to kick in when she turned 50, Morgan worked at Teledyne Water Pik on the shower massage assembly line and later in customer service.

"When the bell rang at the end of the day, that was it - nothing work-related to stew about," she said.

A year later, she embarked on what she acknowledges is an enviable lifestyle marked by a balance between physical exercise, community service and indulgence in the things she loves to do. And there are many.

Wednesdays, weather permitting, she hikes with a group. Tuesdays and Thursdays she's up at 5:30 a.m. to meet her buddies for an early morning run - dark, cold and snow notwithstanding. Saturdays they ratchet down the time to 7 or 7:30 a.m. One new friend is having a tough time keeping Morgan's "groups" straight. No wonder. There are the Scrabble players, the Supper Club, the Wine Tasters, the Book Club and on a less regular basis, "Martini Nights."

While career jobs have little appeal for Morgan now, no one could call this tiny blonde dynamo lazy. To earn a few extra bucks to make a special trip possible, she works on Fridays filing paperwork for Burt's Logo Apparel (formerly Burt's Shirts). She worked long days at an early vote center this fall, and over the years she has eagerly taken on temporary, part-time jobs.

Morgan has never met a canine she didn't love. She grew up in Wichita, Kan., with two brothers, a sister and Irish Setters. As an adult, she thoroughly spoiled first Schultz, the Saint Bernard, then Great Pyrenees Boomer and Ollie, and now Angus, an 8-year-old misbehaving Great Pyrenees-mutt. He lives in a house where homemade dog biscuits are served and his birthday is celebrated with hats and "frosty paws."

A hiker and cyclist for many years, Morgan got serious about running a couple of years ago. Bringing a fine physique and "fresh legs" to the sport, she has had amazing success winning her age group time and again in distances as long as half-marathons.

"I love running for the sociability and the way it makes me feel," she said. Serving as treasurer for the Fort Collins Running Club is her way of doing her part for the sport.

She's a natural to help out at the Humane Society, and she does more than sloshing slime from dog dishes. She writes thank-you notes to donors and helps out with organizing an annual fund-raiser run, the Fire Hydrant Five.

Committed to preserving open land, Morgan sees the work of the Legacy Land Trust as a win-win. She recently worked at Land Trust information booths at the Sustainable Living Fair and Whole Foods and tended bar for a fund-raiser at the new Poudre River Arts Center.

Spring and fall, the cookie lady swings into action, heading up to Cameron Pass as part of a volunteer crew that maintains cross-country ski trails. They haul down signs and directional poles in spring and return them in the fall; they cut fallen trees, and generally see that the trails are in good shape. Morgan isn't tall enough to reach some of the signs, but the quality of her cookies evens things out.

Morgan began her working life in 1969 with a degree in occupational therapy from Colorado State University and no job prospects in town. She worked in retail for a time, and then commuted to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley for a graduate degree in special education that led to a position at Cache La Poudre Elementary School. When a kindergarten teaching position came open there, she took it. Two years later, she moved to Tavelli Elementary where she taught for 20 years.

"When I worked, I was a weekend warrior," Morgan said. "My energy was consumed by teaching. There was no time left over."

Now a jack-of-all-trades, she loves the freedom she has to "try new stuff." Doing what she wants to do doesn't wear her out, Morgan observed.

Some might question that assertion. Morgan has hiked 31 of the 14er mountain peaks, done a rim-to-rim trek in the Grand Canyon (including a 28-mile day), backpacked in Yosemite and Bryce, and recently flew to Africa along with 15 members of the Colorado Mountain Club to climb Kilimanjaro, the continent's highest peak. She followed up the six-day climb with a safari to the Serengeti Plain, Ngorohgoro Crater and Lake Manyara.

"Africa's in my blood," Morgan said. "If there's such a thing as reincarnation, then I was an African in another life."

In the near future, there's a 10th Mountain Division hut ski trip, a half-marathon in Moab, Utah, and in June travel to Montenegro with the Mountain Club to climb in four national parks.

Angus is looking at spending some time at Aunt T's Pet Motel, but there will be some sweet reunions in his future.

And Morgan will be back, cutting trees, washing dog dishes, licking envelopes, counting pennies and planning her time to include a game of Scrabble and a martini or two.

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