At the end of Coffin Street, where it meets the side entrance of Farley Field House, there is a small tan house on the corner—the residence of Bob Morrell ’47 and his wife, Nan Morrell.
While living on campus this summer, I went out for a short run one late afternoon, after the temperature had cooled. Toward the end of my run, I decided I did not want to continue embarrassing any of the other runners with my breakneck speed, so I began to walk.
I, like many Bowdoin students on a regular basis, walked down Coffin Street and looked over to see Morrell, sitting at the end of his garage, wearing L.L. Bean slippers that appeared to have been converted from an old pair of Bean boots. Exhausted and looking for an excuse to stand still for a second, I yelled over to the man and asked him about what living next to a college is like—which I presumed to be loud, yet entertaining.
Morrell took a long draw from his pipe, greeted me, and we began to talk. Before long, I found myself drawn to the foot of the garage, sitting on the asphalt, captivated by some local history. Bob Morrell, a lifelong Brunswick resident, was quick to share his stories.
“It was 1934,” Morrell began. “It was a Ford Trimotor, which was a large airplane, and it landed out where the airbase is now.”
At the time, local pilots would charge a dollar or two to take people for short tours over the town of Brunswick.
After their small tour, the pilot landed the plane and got out, but no one had actually seen the pilot exit.
“Finally, after about two or five minutes, I said ‘Oh, I’ll go find him,’ so I got walked forward and there wasn’t anyone in the pilot’s seat.” Eight-year-old Bob Morrell walked out of the plane and saw the pilot standing in the foreground, and she was not a man.
Though she had already been the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart had been giving small tour flights out of Brunswick that day, and she just so happened to be Morrell’s pilot.
“We didn’t talk to her. [We found out] that same day, but we didn’t know who the hell she was,” Morrell explained.
While not every day of Morrell’s childhood was as exciting, his stories about growing up in Brunswick are quite remarkable. As a kid, Morrell was responsible for walking around the area and reminding people to dim their lights and close their shades during blackout times at the start of World War II.
Several years later, Morrell had his time at the College briefly interrupted, as he enlisted with the United States Air Corps.
“I ended up in St. Louis, then the war ended,” Morrell explained.
“Well, we dropped a bomb on Hiroshima and in about four days we all received letters from a general and it said ‘we don’t need anymore pilots—we already have too many, so if you want to go home, you can,” he said.
Morrell took trains from St. Louis back to Brunswick, while his parents were unaware that he had not actually been deployed to Japan. Eventually, he made it back home and knocked on the front door—his mother collapsed to the floor, overcome with emotion.
As our conversation went on, it became clear to me that Bob Morrell was part of a long line of Bowdoin history. Mal Morrell, his uncle, was the College’s Athletic Director from 1928-1967. Morrell Gym is named after him.
Former Maine Senator and Bowdoin alumnus, George Mitchell ’54, was employed at the Morrell family business, Brunswick Coal & Lumber. Morrell, who had graduated by the time Mitchell matriculated, assisted Mitchell with his duties as House Treasurer for the Sigma Nu house—now Helmreich House—as Morrell was a former treasurer himself.
It is no coincidence that Morrell shares ties with the Morrell Gym, Morrell Lounge, honors scholarships and even Baxter House.
“My grandfather—Hartley C. Baxter—he built it,” said Morrell, referring to today’s Baxter House. “He went to Bowdoin and he lived in the fraternity house which is out on the corner,” said Morrell, referencing the present-day Admissions building. “And he liked that building so much that he had this land and he had his own house built,” said Morrell. “We would go every Sunday for dinner.”
Morrell and his wife continued the tradition and raised a family in Brunswick. They owned and operated Brunswick Coal & Lumber for years with his family. With their kids grown-up, it is their granddaughter, Annie Wilcosky ’17, who has taken the place as the family’s student ambassador at the College. The Morrells often take out their golf cart—a gift of their children—onto the fields to watch sporting events. The College has given them special permission to do so.
While all of us are beneficiaries of the hard work and generosity of multiple generations of the Morrell family, I sometimes find it difficult to relate the names on plaques, buildings and scholarships to the real people that they originated from. But after meeting the Morrell family and hearing some of their stories, I find myself with a little more knowledge and a little more appreciation when I walk into the Morrell Lounge, or jog by the Morrell’s home on Coffin Street.