Norval K. “Nub” Morey: In Memoriam

Norval Morey Plaque
A plaque honoring Norval K. Morey's contributions to the Mackinac Center hangs in a Center hallway.

Oct. 30 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Norval K. "Nub" Morey, a mid-Michigan entrepreneur, philanthropist and patriot. Born in 1920, Norval Morey would spend his years literally remaking the economic, political, educational and cultural landscape of rural Isabella County, Michigan and beyond. Based on stories and descriptions I have heard about Mr. Morey, I am sure I would have admired him and regret not knowing the man personally. I would like to briefly explain why.

As an economist and longtime student of economic growth and development, I have become convinced that all growth begins and ends with risk-taking entrepreneurs and their singular visions. They often see opportunities that others don’t and risk the scarce resources of time and money to bring new and useful products to life. And that’s just for starters. A new product can sit idle forever if its creator doesn’t persuade others that it is useful. Moreover, entrepreneurs not only create products that never existed previously, they must do so while jumping through government regulatory hoops and paying stifling taxes in a hyper-complex regime, all while meeting a payroll, too.

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Nub Morey recognized that as government burdens on people and business rose, opportunity for people and business necessarily declined. In a March 1997 letter to my colleague, Lawrence W. Reed, Mr. Morey explained why he chose to make a record-setting contribution to the Mackinac Center. He wrote in part:

"I am able to assist this cause financially today because when I started my company, markets were truly free and business was virtually unregulated. This freedom opened the door to opportunity, success, expansion and hundreds of good paying jobs. I understand what the free enterprise system allowed me to do and I want to help preserve that system."

This tradition of giving is part of what helps make America great. But entrepreneurs give every day they remain in business, create new products and employ more people (and pay taxes for public goods along the way). Some refer to their philanthropy as "giving back." I don’t see it that way. I see it as "giving more." Entrepreneurs give everyday by providing products, jobs and opportunity.

Americans of all stripes have a tradition of giving and I would suggest it is due in large part to the fact that entrepreneurs — such as Nub Morey — have helped make us so wealthy. The more we are all able to earn, the more we can give.

Despite being gone 10 long years now, Norval Morey’s contributions live on. His son, Lon, has not only taken over but expanded the Morey business, adding jobs and wealth to mid-Michigan in the process while continuing his father’s philanthropic work, too. Enough cannot be said about the Morey family’s contributions to Michigan’s well-being.

What follows is the eulogy for Nub offered by Mackinac Center President Lawrence W. Reed at the Morey Charter School in Shepherd on Nov. 8, 1997.

Eulogy for Norval K. (“Nub”) Morey
by Lawrence W. Reed

Members of the Morey family, employees of Morbark Industries and their families, friends and associates of Norval Morey, the unforgettable “Nub” as we all called him:

How is it that we recognize a man as “great?” Is it by how often his name appears in the newspapers? Is it by how much he gives away, or by how many public offices he’s held, or by how many degrees he lists after his name?

In my book, greatness isn’t really any of those things. Greatness comes from character, from the stuff a person is made of. A great man is one who does great things from the heart and doesn’t care if it makes the papers. Giving to worthy causes is a noble thing, but having the wisdom and the drive to do what it takes to earn it in the first place is what’s really great. A man can become great in public office, but this is not a country whose strength and vitality come from government. And having a collection of degrees after your name doesn’t say anything about what you’ve done to put any of that to good use.

“The achievement of a man,” Booker T. Washington once said, “is measured not by where he starts out in life, nor by where he ends up, but by the distance he travels in between.” This is why Norval K. Morey, “Nub” as we called him, was a great man. This is why, though he may be gone in one sense, his spirit and inspiration are very much with us, and will not be forgotten.

Someone else once said that there are only three kinds of people in all the world: a very tiny minority of people who make things happen, a somewhat larger group that watches things happen, and the vast majority of us who never know what happened. We think of Norval Morey as having both feet firmly planted in that first group. He made things happen. Man, did he make things happen!

Norval’s start in life was about as humble as humble gets. So was his formal education. In 77 years of life, though, he went further than most of us ever will if we live to be 100. He was a pioneering inventor, an entrepreneurial genius, a job creator, a benefactor of education, and a plain-spoken, no-nonsense defender of the principles that made America great.

He had an idea, took a risk, and made it work. The result is a fine company providing products of world renown and employment for hundreds of people. He knew the truth of what Leo Burnett once said, “If you reach for the stars, you may not always get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

When it comes to work, nobody worked harder than Norval Morey. He knew that success in a free, competitive economy was not automatic, that it takes unending perseverance. He had it, and all of us here today and many others as well are decisively better off because he did.

Nub not only knew instinctively what it takes to make a successful company tick, he knew what it takes to make a successful country tick as well. At a time when it seemed America was hell-bent for big government, Norval Morey said “no way!” He spoke out in favor of individual liberty and free enterprise. He supported candidates who came down squarely in favor of those principles. He created organizations to work for those ideas, and generously supported others who were spreading that message too. And if you were a public official who took another view, Nub exercised the fundamental right and duty of every citizen in a free country and let you have it.

In fact, in that sense, he was an Isabella County Harry Truman. When asked about his nickname, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry,” Truman once said — and can’t you just see Nub saying this too? — “I only give ‘em the truth, and they just think it’s Hell.”

As I reflect on the many conversations I had with Nub over the years, certain things stand out in my mind: He always knew what he wanted to do, and what was necessary to make it happen. He was always in charge. He thought that if you had only the will, you’d find a way. I never came away wondering where he stood on what we discussed. There was no him-hawing around with Norval Morey. He could see clearly and speak decisively. I always felt stronger by simply being in the same room with him.

Here was a man who had achieved great wealth and could have sat back at the age of 60 and simply said, “I quit; I’ve earned a life of leisure now,” and no one would have begrudged him for that. But he didn’t do that. He went on for another 17 years — working, creating, employing, growing a company, building a school.

Those who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him well, but might have met him briefly, probably came away thinking this guy Norval Morey was a little different, but in a positive, attractive sort of way. He was like the round peg that doesn’t quite fit neatly into the square hole. He could be cantankerous, but that was because he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He could be impatient, but that was because he wanted to get things done. He didn’t exactly speak the King’s English, but that never mattered because he always made eminently good sense. He never cared much for kings anyway.

You rarely saw him in a suit but that was because he didn’t put on airs or think of himself as special in any way; besides, what’s on the inside speaks more loudly about you than what you wear on the outside, and Nub was a down-to-earth, no pretense, ordinary guy whose least concern was whether or not he impressed you. I never once heard him say anything boastful; never heard him say, “I’ve done this,” or “I’ve done that.” He didn’t have to; if you knew Norval Morey, you knew that when God made him, He broke the mold. What a character! What a hero! One of a kind, no question about it.

So it is that we are here today not to mark someone’s passing, but to celebrate the life of a great man—a man we knew as father, employer, friend, or benefactor—who blessed this county, this state, and this country for 77 years. He traveled an enormous distance from start to finish and he was in charge all the way. This school, and the generations who will be educated within its walls, will be among the many monuments to the great life of a great man. And it is humbling to think that we were given the privilege of knowing him. I thank God for that. I thank God for giving us Norval Morey. I hope all of us will be able some day to look back on our lives and say we were even half the man he was, or accomplished even half what he did.

Framed and sitting on my desk in my office is a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I think could have just as well been said by Norval Morey: “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”


Michael D. LaFaive is director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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