Thursday, August 10, 2017

Morris, Hirata and Johnson families have amazing bond; there's a Linfield connection, too

Photo: Harold and Nori (Hirata) Johnsons, their sons and her parents. Harold, far left. Nori, front center. Sons (left to right), Malcolm, Marshall and Kennedy (played football for Linfield). On either side of Nori, her father Takashi (Linfield cap) and mother Masako Hirata.

This is a story about the amazing bond of the Morris, Johnson (U.S.) and Hirata (Japan) families.

We’re talking about:

--the Morris family of which Howard (Linfield Class of 1958) and Ginger (Class of 1959) Morris, of Klamath Falls, Oregon, are the respective patriarch and matriarch. They have two daughters and three sons.

--the Hirata family of Japan. Takashi is patriarch and Masako Hirata is matriarch. They have two daughters.

Howard was an outstanding student-athlete at Linfield. He’s was a first team All-American football player for Linfield, wearing uniform #43. One of only three to have their football jersey numbers retired by the college. Howard, who died July 17, 2017, is a Linfield Athletics Hall of Fame member.

After his Linfield graduation, Howard coached high school before a 30-year career with Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech). He coached football, baseball and wrestling and taught health & physical education. For 18 years (1974-1992) he was Oregon Tech’s director of athletics.

In June-July 1976, Howard, Oregon Tech wrestling coach, was assistant coach of the All-American National NAIA Wrestling Cultural Exchange Team which competed in Japan and Korea. The Japan part of the trip was for two weeks with the NAIA team wrestling a variety of Japanese competition.

Now, to continue the story, meet Nori (Hirata) Johnson, a daughter of Takashi and Masako.

In the 1970s, Takashi was coaching wrestling for Japan’s Hosei University in Tokyo. Coaches Takashi and Howard met in Japan during the wrestling exchange.

“We (Hirata family) were living in Yokohama, Japan. I was in middle school and my sister, Nozomi, was four-years-old. My father invited the NAIA coaches to a dinner at the Hirata home. Howard was the only brave and polite coach to accept the invitation.”

It’s an understatement to say Howard and Takashi got along very well. This led to a friendship between the Morris and Hirata families.

As a result, in the 1980s, Nori came from Japan and lived with Howard and Ginger in their home in Klamath Falls and attended Klamath Union High School for three years. She graduated from Klamath Union High in 1982. 

After high school, Nori attended Oregon State University in Corvallis. At Oregon State, she met student Harold Johnson, a member of the Oregon State Beaver football team. They fell in love and married in 1990. Nori and Harold now have three sons.

When Nozomi was in middle school and nearing high school, she and her parents, Takashi and Masako, and Nori decided they would move to Klamath Falls. They did and Nozomi attended Klamath Union High, graduating in 1991.

A couple of years after Nozomi graduated from Klamath Union High, Takashi and Masako moved from Klamath Falls to Eagle Point, and eventually to the Portland area. They now live in Gresham, where Nori and Harold and their sons, Malcolm, Kennedy (played football for Linfield 2013-2016 and will attend Linfield fall semester 2017 to complete credits to graduate) and Marshall also live.

Said Nori, “That one night of dinner with Howard at the Hirata home in Japan over 40 years ago, shaped the direction of my life and the lives of the Hirata family.”

“The Morris family is a family of so much love to give, with so much generosity, integrity, patience and acceptance. I have never yet met a family quite like the Morrises. I am one of the luckiest people to have ever encountered them to be such a huge part of my life. It's a debt I will never be able to repay, but I'm glad to have and cherish forever,” she said.

For Nori, living in Klamath Falls with Howard and Ginger was the start of a “path to the Morris family, football and my wonderful husband and sons, all of whom I am very proud,” she said.

Sons Malcolm, Kennedy and Marshall are graduates of Gresham’s Barlow High School.
--Malcolm “was quite a running back” for Barlow, 2006-2008, Nori said. His honors included 1st team all-state and offensive player of the game at the Les Schwab High School Oregon all-star football game in 2009. He went on to play for Boise State and later at Portland State. But, his time in college football was beset with injuries. He now coaches running backs and special teams at Barlow.
--After a great football career at Barlow, Kennedy played the last four years of Linfield football. He was an All-America defensive back and returner, All-Northwest Conference and had regional honors. “Kennedy's experience at Linfield has been irreplaceable. Linfield was the only place Kennedy should have ever been,” Nori said.
--Marshall just finished at Barlow. “He was a great/versatile football player, starting both ways. He played center, linebacker and carried the ball once as fullback in the very last game of his senior season, scoring a TD, coached by his brother, Malcolm! He’s taking a break from football and attending Mount Hood Community College in Gresham,” Nori said Attending a four-year college (Linfield?) is perhaps in the future for him, she said.

1 =Sat., Aug. 5, 2017, in Klamath Falls after memorial service for Howard on the Oregon Tech campus. (Photo has been “photoshopped.”) On the far left, Harold Johnson. Front center, Nori (Hirata) Johnson. On either side of Nori, her father (wearing Linfield cap) Takashi and Masako Hirata, her mother. In the back, left to right, Malcolm (shirt and tie), Marshall, and Kennedy Johnson (former Linfield football player wearing short-sleeved shirt), sons of Harold and Nori.
2 and 3 = Linfield Homecoming Sat., Oct. 18, 2014. One photo shows Linfield Athletics Hall of Famers Al “Juice” Wills (football letters 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952) of Hawaii, Howard (football letters 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957) and Joe Smith (football letters 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992), Linfield head football coach. Other photo with Kennedy (football letters 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), Linfield football player of Gresham, Ginger Morris and Shirley Lee, friend of Al.
4, 5 and 6 = Linfield Homecoming Sat., Sept. 12, 2015. The last Linfield Homecoming Howard attended. Two photos on Maxwell Field, one with Ginger, Kennedy and Howard. Other photo with Kennedy and Howard. One photo of Howard and Ginger near Homecoming tent.