Morris Alden Rowell, 85, of Craftsbury, Vermont, died peacefully on Thursday, December 28, 2017.
He was born at home on the family farm in South Albany, VT on January 13, 1932, the fifth of eight children of Harry and Helen (Urie) Rowell. Morris attended Craftsbury Academy, where in addition to his high scholastic achievements he established a reputation for fast driving that would continue for the rest of his life. (A ditty from his yearbook: “That cloud of dust that just whizzed past / is Morris, ─as usual, driving fast.”) Upon graduating in 1950, he farmed until 1957 with his brother Marvin in South Albany. During those years, Morris, his brothers Marvin and Hollis, and their cousin Alan Urie operated the Shadow Lake Pavilion, also known as Urie’s Dance Hall, providing a very popular Friday-night entertainment spot throughout the summer months.
In January 1957, Morris married Carol Johns, with whom he started a family that would grow to five children. Also in 1957, he moved from South Albany to East Craftsbury and began farming at Brassknocker Farm. Over the next 30 years, Morris grew and modernized the farm, introducing a milking parlor and free-stall system in the 1960s, expanding the Jersey herd and tillable acreage, and introducing state-of-the art silage and manure management systems.
In 1970, Morris and his brothers Marvin, Hollis and Wilbur purchased Slayton Motors in Hardwick, VT. The business was renamed Rowell Brothers, Inc. and operated continuously for more than 40 years, at one point being one of the largest Ford tractor dealerships in New England. Farmers throughout the region came to Rowell Brothers for tractors, farm equipment, milking systems, and all manner of parts and repairs. Morris was well known and respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of parts as well as his sage advice on how to fix every type of farm equipment. After retiring from the business in 2013 at the age of 81, the loss of Morris’s knowledge and service to farmers across the region was lamented in an article by Ben Hewitt in Yankee Magazine.
Morris was deeply involved in the Craftsbury community. He served on the Craftsbury Academy school board from 1965 to 1980 and was instrumental in preserving the independence of the Craftsbury school in the late 1960s during a time of statewide consolidation into larger, union schools. He served on numerous town committees as well as on the boards of the East Craftsbury Cemetery and the John Woodruff Simpson Memorial Library. He was a lifelong member of the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church, where he was ordained as an elder, served numerous terms on the session, and contributed his excellent tenor voice to the choir for many decades.
Morris’s wife Carol died in October 1973 after a long illness. Late the following year, Morris married Mary Anthony Cox, a family friend who headed the ear training program at the Juilliard School. Over the more than 40 years of his marriage to Mary Anthony, he was able to nurture his deep love for music as well as travel to Europe multiple times with her and eventually his grandchildren. Morris was a dedicated supporter of the Craftsbury Chamber Players, of which his wife was a founding member and director. He was regarded as a second father to many of the musicians who stayed in his home each summer during the concert season. His innate musical talent was a gift he passed on to all of his children.
Morris was famous for his pie making and inspired many to learn how to master the art of a good crust. He hosted a Sunday dinner after church every week for family and friends. He was extremely proud of the accomplishments of his family members. His grandchildren knew that he always had a treat on hand for them, and they could count on him showing up at their concerts and athletic events.
Although he never had the opportunity to go beyond a high school education, he was a voracious reader of history and biographies. Morris was widely known for his loyalty, wisdom and kindness—and for his lifelong habit of humming as he went about his daily business. Until his health began to decline, he was considered one of the first people to call if someone needed help. He was a living example of his strong Christian faith and what it means to be a good man.
Morris is survived by his wife, Mary Anthony Rowell; siblings Louise Kinsey of Albany, Eunice Kinsey of Craftsbury, Marvin Rowell and his wife Georgette of Albany, Wilbur Rowell of Irasburg, and Harriet Grenier and her husband Charlie of Waterbury; sisters-in-law Ruth Rowell of Glover and Alta Rowell of Crossville, TN and Saxtons River, VT; his children Margaret Rowell and her partner Saul Treviño of Craftsbury, Mary Rowell of Craftsbury, Frances Rowell of North Bergen, NJ, John Rowell and his husband James Blue of Craftsbury and Washington, DC, and David Rowell of Craftsbury; grandchildren Katie Rowell and her fiancé Tim Oswald of Keene, NH, Annie Rowell of Craftsbury, Carolyn Rowell and her partner Elijah Mayhew of Hardwick, Alden Blue of Craftsbury and Washington, DC, and Effie Blue of Craftsbury and Washington, DC; and great-grandchildren Eden Mayhew of Hardwick and Zoë Oswald of Keene, NH. He also leaves 24 nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents and first wife Carol, brothers George and Hollis, sister-in-law Ruth (McBride) Rowell, brothers-in-law Fred and Bob Kinsey, and several nieces and nephews. He was especially close to Fielda Calderwood, a dear family friend of more than 50 years.
Morris’s family would like to express sincere gratitude to the excellent caregivers who made it possible for him to live at home despite physical challenges in his last years, and to the kind and compassionate hospital staff for all they did to ease his passing.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Morris’s name can be made to the Craftsbury Chamber Players (PO Box 37, Craftsbury, VT 05826 or online at www.craftsburychamberplayers.org) and the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church (1097 Ketchum Hill Road, Craftsbury, VT 05826).
A celebration of Morris’s life will be held at the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church on Saturday, January 13 at 11:00 a.m., immediately followed by a luncheon reception at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro. In Morris’s honor, those who would like to bring a homemade pie to be served at the reception are invited to do so.