Annette Sue (Williamson) Morse graduated from Morris Community High School in 1955. Her favorite achievements at MCHS were excelling in the classroom and being part of an excellent high school band. After finishing high school, Sue went to Northwestern to study nursing. Following a long career as a registered nurse and administrator, Sue retired to a life of volunteering and giving back to her community. She has been on several boards and committees of many organizations through the years and continues to volunteer for We Care and Morris Mobile Meals, among others. To show how important Sue and her time have been to Morris and Grundy County, the Corn Festival Volunteer Award is named in her honor. She has been an important part of making Morris a great place to live and raise a family.
Richard (Dick) Steele graduated from Morris Community High School in 1953. Dick was a three-sport athlete at Morris, excelling in football, basketball, and baseball. Following high school, he tried out with the Chicago White Sox, but during a break he met the love of his life, Joyce and made the decision to stop playing baseball. He returned to Morris to start a family taking a job with the local radio station. Dick quickly became a local sports radio success story. His broadcasts of Redskin games and his radio program the Dick Steele Sunday Show, were well-known and respected in Morris and the surrounding communities. Dick has won many awards and honors through the years, including being inducted in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame for News Media. He has also been named the Morris Lions Club Citizen of the Year and Morris Redskin Fan of the Year twice. Dick always served his community by volunteering his time for many organizations and being a member of the Grundy County and Morris Township boards. Dick’s signature signoff still rings true today: “Keep Sporting, Keep Fit.”
Tara Stiles graduated from Morris Community High School in 1996. While in high school, Tara was a part of the Morris Dance Team and also the Business Professionals of America. Her high school experiences would inspire her to connect with and understand people. Following high school, Tara took her studies to the Barat Conservatory majoring in Dance. She continued to dance and perform with various companies following her studies. Tara then founded Strala, which is a globally recognized style of yoga known for attention to ease and self-care. Her successful business has been studied by the Harvard Business School, and Tara is most proud of the people they have helped along the way. Tara, along with her husband, support the Alliance for a Healthier Generation which easily aligns with their lifestyle and teachings. Tara shows that anything is possible and believes when you put your passion behind helping people, you will always be supported.
Dr. Hugo Avalos graduated from high school in Mexico City in 1940. While there, he excelled in academics and athletics, most notably swimming, polo, and weight training. Following high school, Dr. Avalos attended the University of Mexico in Mexico City where he studied to become a doctor due to his passion for helping people. Hugo completed his medical residency in Chicago and became board certified in abdominal surgery. He also became a United States citizen and served in the U.S. Army reserves medical corp. Dr. Avalos had a medical career lasting 42 years as an abdominal surgeon and general practitioner. Over the course of his career, he delivered over 1000 babies. Dr. Avalos and his beloved wife Mary were cornerstones of the Morris community. Hugo loved MCHS and served as the team physician for 45 years and was certainly one of the biggest fans at any event. An endowed scholarship at Morris Hospital was established in his name to support future students in the health related fields. Due to his dedication to Morris, he would have considered being inducted into the MCHS Hall of Distinction one of the greatest honors of his life.
Joseph (Joe) Schmitz graduated from Streator Township High School in 1960. While in high school, he was a member of many clubs, including student council, and he also was a great supporter of all other school sports and activities, a support that continued throughout life after graduation. After high school, Joe served in the United States Navy for four years and then worked as a banker in Grundy County for the rest of his career. He retired as the President and CEO of Exchange Bank. Joe has lived a life dedicated to philanthropy work in his community. For example, Operation St. Nick, started by Joe and his wife in 1979, has raised millions of dollars to help families in need. He has won countless awards for his life of volunteering including Grundy County Chamber Man of the Year (1974), Morris Lions Club Citizen of the Year (1997), and Grundy County Chamber Volunteer of the Year (2002). Joe has always been a proud supporter of MCHS and has had all three of his children graduate from Morris. He loves helping anyone in need and would like all students to “never aim low or think small and never give up on yourself.”
2018 Hall of Distinction Inductees
The Honorable James F. Holderman graduated from Morris High School in 1964. While in high school, he stayed busy in many activities, including playing football and basketball. Following high school, James went to the University of Illinois and studied agriculture and law. At Illinois, he earned his B.S. in Agriculture Science and continued to earn his Juris Doctor Degree. James has retired as Chief Judge of U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois following 30 years of work. He continues to help others by teaching at several law schools. Throughout his career, James has been honored with several accolades. In 2017, the State of Illinois honored James with the Lincoln Laureate, which is the highest civilian award given by the state. James credits his successes in life to his family, especially his wife Paula.
Arthur (Art) Hornsby graduated from Morris High School in 1956. During his time at MCHS, he was the Vice President of the FFA Club. As a senior drafting student, Art designed a store counter that is still being used to display merchandise in retail stores today. At a young age, Art began working at his father’s store one summer and never stopped working. Along with his father and more than a thousand employees, he built one of the leading regional chains in Illinois. While being the President of Hornsby Stores Inc., Art always found time to help the town of Morris. For thirty years, he served on average, three community boards or committees, including serving as an Alderman for the City of Morris. Art always strives to make the community a better place to live and work and has dedicated countless hours to make this a possibility
Colonel James E. Hougas, Jr. graduated from Morris High School in 1975. He was quite active in high school participating to several clubs and athletic teams. Jim was voted Class President and also had the honor of being recognized as the class valedictorian. Following high school, Jim attended Creighton University where he first earned an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and followed by a Doctor of Medicine. Upon graduation, he served 34 years in the United States Air Force, retiring in the rank of Colonel. The desire to use and apply science to improve the quality of life for others led to his career as a Civilian Family Medicine physician and Flight Surgeon where he was able to care for Air Force aviators and their families. Jim continues his philanthropic work as an Institute for Latin America Concern volunteer and credits much of his success to his parents, wife, and MCHS teachers.
Dr. James Leonard graduated from Morris Community High School in 1973 where he was a member of the basketball and track teams. In addition to his time as an athlete, Jim participated in student council concluding his service as student body president. This experience strongly impacted his personal growth and insights. Dr. Leonard attended the University of Illinois majoring in Psychology and Pre-Med. He then stayed at Illinois to earn his Doctor of Medicine degree. Jim is a family practice doctor and the current CEO at Carle Health System in Champaign-Urbana, which is comprised of three hospitals and 7,500 employees. He serves on the American Hospital Board of Trustees and has been named Carle Clinic Physician of the Year. He also served as a physician for the United States in the Olympics. Dr. Leonard enjoys traveling and has a strong passion for philanthropy surrounding poverty and clean water.
Kenneth “Ken” Sereno graduated from Morris Community High School in 1944. His favorite subject was English, as he loved to read and write. Following high school, Ken went to Texas A&M where he proudly served our country as a Tech Sergeant in the U.S. Military. His professional career included working in business for 47 years. Ken was also the Sponsor of the Morris Youth Center and wrote many books on the history of Grundy County. He served 34 years on the Morris City Council, dedicating his life as a public servant. Ken has enjoyed writing books on the history of Grundy County and collecting items relating to the County’s past. He has been honored with several awards including Citizen of the Year (1999), Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year (2000), and Cultural Heritage of Morris Award (2004).
Joan “Joanie” Sereno attended Morris Community High School and was active in the MCHS Pep Club. Her favorite achievement in high school was being able to socialize with her many friends. She became a Professional Physical Therapist at Morris Hospital. Joanie has used her outgoing personality and enormous heart to continue to help the City of Morris. She has been the director of Grundy Community Volunteer Hospice for 31 years. Throughout her dedicated service to the Morris community, she has received many awards including the 2001 Illinois Women of Achievement Award and the Lions Club Citizen of the Year. She was inducted into the Grundy County Senior Award Hall of Fame in 2003 and continues to help anyone she comes across, always more than willing to give out one of her famous free hugs.
2017 Hall of Distinction Inductees
Ed Brady graduated from Morris Community High School in 1980. He was a standout athlete, competing in football, basketball, and track. Football and schooling led him to the University of Illinois where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communication. He continued his football playing days as an Illini, appearing in the Rose Bowl, and then professionally in the NFL. Ed had a successful professional career that spanned twelve seasons. He played for the Los Angeles Rams (1984-85), Cincinnati Bengals (1986-1991), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1992-1995). He appeared in Super Bowl XXIII as a member of the Bengals. Ed is currently a high school football coach at Lakota East High School in Ohio teaching kids to keep striving to reach their goals and potential.
Dr. Mark Ciota graduated from Morris Community High School in 1982. Mark was active in high school in many sports and extra-curricular activities, while also succeeding in the classroom. He went on to further his education at Butler University as a Pre-Med student. Mark then went to the Indiana University School of Medicine and completed his Orthopedic Residency at Wright State University. Dr. Ciota is now an Orthopedic Surgeon and CEO with Mayo Clinic. He has received many achievements through his years in the medical field, including Mayo MacMillan Scholar, being both the Chair of Surgical Committees and Community Relations. Mark continues his work with the community as the Chairman of the School Board and being a member of the Hormel Foundation Board.
Dan Darlington graduated from Morris Community High School in 1968. He received all-state honors in both football and basketball, while also reaching state in track. He received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, and later a Master’s degree from Illinois State University. He was a lifetime teacher, athletic director, and coach at MCHS. Coach D led the Redskin football team from 1977-2005, compiling a career record of 264-55. During his football tenure, the Redskins were able to win two state championships (1980 and 1984) and finish runners up five times. Dan was elected to the Illinois Football High School Association Hall of Fame in 1999.
Dr. John Roth Jr. graduated from Morris Community High School in 1958. John was a multi-sport athlete and was number one on the first tennis team in school history. He furthered his education by graduating from the University of Illinois in three years and then going to University of Illinois medical school in Chicago. Following graduation, Dr. Roth served in the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1966-67. He received the Bronze Star and Air Medal during his service. Over the course of his professional career, John delivered an estimated 8,000 babies and performed around 12,000 surgeries. He served on the boards for the Grundy County Health Department, the Morris Hospital and Healthcare, and the Morris Hospital Foundation during his career. Dr. Roth has always been a pillar of the community and was honored with the lifetime achievement award from Morris Hospital.
Jimmy Stafford graduated from Morris Community High School in 1982. Following high school, Jimmy wanted to learn more about his craft, so he went on to the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. Jimmy graduated in the top twenty of his class while perfecting his guitar skills. He is the original guitarist and founding member of the band Train. Train is a worldwide success and has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, winning twice. The band has also won two Billboard Music Awards, sold over 14 million albums, and performed all over the globe. Jimmy is able to find time to work with multiple charities, including MusiCares and the Haiti Relief Foundation. He encourages everyone to “Dream Big” and shows by example that anything is possible.
Major Elizabeth Talarico graduated from Morris Community High School in 1994 as her class valedictorian. She excelled in and out of the classroom, participating in many extra-curricular activities as well as several athletic teams. Elizabeth went on to graduate from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Trinity College and a Juris Doctor degree from Notre Dame Law School. She also served on active duty in the United States Army from 2003-2012 before serving in the Army Reserves. Elizabeth actively supports organizations and efforts that benefit wounded warriors and all veterans and works as a civilian attorney for the Department of the Army.
Jim Baum attended Morris Community High School for three years and then completed two years at Culver Military Academy. He then received a Bachelor’s Degree from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Jim, and his wife Carol, returned back to Morris after living two years aboard in Germany due to his Army service. Lt. Baum and Carol operated two businesses: a women’s apparel store that was open for 132 years and a chain of Hallmark Shops. In 1997, Jim and Carol were named the Illinois Retailers of the Year. The Baums have spent countless hours helping out the local community through many endeavors. They started the Community Foundation of Grundy County and the Morris Downtown Development Partnership. Their service to Morris and the surrounding area is immeasurable.
Joseph Corsello graduated from Thornton Township High School in 1952 where he was a member of art club, the football team, and Purple X club. Following graduation, Joe went to Illinois Wesleyan University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts. He has spent his whole professional career teaching art, including an experience in Korea teaching art to children in an orphanage. Joe has taught countless students in Morris during his career at Morris Community High School for thirty-three years and I.C.S. for twenty-eight years. He has been honored as Man of the Year and Teacher of the Year. Joe is also well-known to many throughout the community due to his annual role as Santa Claus.
Shirley Kiss graduated from Kelvyn Park High School in 1946. She realized quickly that she was put on Earth to help others. Shirley started in high school by helping fellow students apply their service time to high school credits and continued helping people her entire life. In 1975, Shirley became the We Care Administrator and served the organization for thirty-five years, helping thousands of people in the community. She also started Adopt-A- Family and opened food pantries in each town and village in Grundy County. Shirley has also served as the President of Crime Stoppers and the Vice President of Operation St. Nick. Her constant service to the community and leadership qualities allowed her to receive the first and only key to the City of Morris in 2001.
Charles “Pete” Muffler was born in Morris in 1927. Pete worked with his father at Muffler’s Hardware in downtown Morris and later owned and operated Muffler’s Sporting Goods. He led a life of service in the Morris area. Pete was a volunteer fireman for fifty years and was a lifelong member of the Morris Lions Club and Fraternal Order of Eagles. He was a charter member of the Grundy County Corn Festival and served as president for fifteen years. Pete was an avid baseball fan and served as a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates for thirty-five years. The Pete Muffler Memorial Scholarship was created to help students further their education.