An era of renowned livestock production and leadership is concluding.
The auction of Albert and Gayla Morgan’s 160-acre Hilltop Hereford Ranch in the Flint Hills near Alta Vista this weekend will be a bittersweet time for the couple and all who they’ve crossed paths in more than three-quarters of a century.
“When it gets so your legs and back, your whole body and maybe your mind, too, can’t take care of a place, you’d probably better turn it over to another generation,” Albert Morgan, 85, evaluated last week, days before the dispersing sale.
Seated in the chair just inches away at the kitchen table they’ve shared for more than 40 years, Gayla agreed, “We’ve worked to keep the ranch up, but the past year we haven’t been able to due it justice, or like we thought it should be done.”
“We decided to sell out, perhaps give somebody younger the opportunity to carry on,” Albert continued. “We’re moving to a home we’ve rented in Council Grove, so we’ll be close enough to keep an eye on things.”
Gayla added,“We’re still planning to come to Alta Vista for church and other activities in the community.”
Assisting others, especially future generations of agriculture people, is important to the Morgans, because they’ve been there. “I learned early in life how important the
4-H program and its leaders were for getting one’s life headed forward in the right direction,” recognized Albert, who lost his father (Walter) to a tragic death while still an adolescent.
“I became heavily involved in 4-H leadership and livestock production, and it continued throughout my lifetime and career,” explained Albert, who won state and national recognition, earning awards trips by train to Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Also involved in 4-H as a youth, Gayla has heartfelt feeling for helping others, because of those who’ve stepped to her side when she lost her first husband, Lee Miller, to a farm accident after just nine years of marriage.
“We had three children, two daughters and a son, who was just three weeks old,” Gayla said. “We had just moved to the farm, so my Dad (Harry Meinhardt) helped me, and we continued to farm and raise my children.”
Then a decade later, Albert was lay preacher one Sunday morning at the rural Emmanuel Church where Gayla played the piano for the hymn Albert sang. “I set the trap for him,” Gayla grinned.
But, it was mutual admiration, and soon after Albert, still a bachelor at 45, called for a date. The couple was married in 1969. “It was the best day of my life,” Albert admitted.
Instantly, Albert became a dad to Gayla’s three children (Cheryl, Sharon and Mike), who moved to the Morgan ranch, where Albert and his mother had lived together until her passing just a couple of years earlier.
Owned by another relative, the place had been acquired when the original (Grandpa Albert) Morgan farm, owned by the family since the 1800s, was turned over to Albert’s older brother Howard. Albert also had another brother, George, and a sister, Ruth (Anderson).
In the Moss Springs community, the two Morgan properties are less than a mile apart, and even closer to the country grade school Albert attended before graduating from Alta VistaHigh School in 1943.
Listing Albert’s vast 4-H achievements is not necessary, yet suffice to emphasize he was the one of the best in the country, claiming the Jimmy Fiddler Award as the top 4-H member in Kansas. Albert turned over the first spade of dirt during the ground breaking ceremony for what is now the world-famous Rock Springs 4-H Ranch.
As a member of the Sunnyridge 4-H Club in GearyCounty, Albert recalled,“The first big
award I remember getting was for having the champion poultry exhibit at the county fair.”
His leadership expanded as did his livestock projects showing champion hogs and calves and excelling in livestock judging contests throughout the Midwest, including the American Royal.
“One year, I had a top Angus steer, that I bought from Andy Olson, and I drove in zero degree temperatures to show it at the Denver Stock Show,” Albert smiled. “I was in the top four of showmanship.”
Ample credit is given for all of the assistance provided by 4-H club and community leaders and Paul Gwinn, Geary County agent at that time. “I’ll never forget what they did for me,” Albert praised. “That’s why Gayla and I’ve always tried to help youth programs in any way we could.”
Albert returned to an attitude of his more youthful years when helping his three stepchildren in their Busy Workers 4-H Club leadership and livestock projects, and they, too, collected a number of top prizes.
Then, it had to be the second happiest day of Albert Morgan’s life when he and Gayla’s daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1972. She followed in the footsteps of her family and
became involved in all facets of Busy Workers 4-H Club and community activities. Albert was grinning big when Jennifer showed her home-raised winning cattle and hogs.
An only child born in western Wabaunsee County, Gayla grew up on several farms in
the area, and graduated from White City High School in1950. “I always helped on my family’s farm, and I always liked to ride horses,” Gayla pointed out. “I rode a work horse named Judy to school. My last horse, Buck, was used for helping Albert with cattle.”
Of course, both Albert and Gayla’s families farmed with horses, and there are memories of turning operations over to tractor power. “My dad even raised mules to work, and I always had a horse to ride gathering cattle and helping neighbors,”Albert
Raising several colts, including some by Dan Casement’s Cactus stud, Albert related that noteworthy cowboy Dusty Anderson trained them. Albert’s most unforgettable horses are his Appaloosa Rowdy and the Palomino driving mare called Queen.”
Whether the Morgans are best known for hogs or cattle is debatable, but Albert excelled initially in the Poland China arena producing seedstock winning in major Midwest competitions and in demand by other breeders. Albert had one of the top swine facilities in the area for several years.
“I always kid him that we couldn’t ever celebrate our wedding anniversary, because we were taking turns watching sows farrow,” Gayla noted.
With seemingly an inborn fondness for the horned Herefordbreed, Albert started his own purebred operation with the purchase of bred cows from C.W. Beck, a breeder at
Parkerville, in the late ’40s.
“We marketed a lot of Herefordbulls for breeding to other cowmen, and for several years we sold groups of Hereford bulls into old Mexico,” Albert detailed. “A number of Hereford calves we produced were shown successfully by 4-H members. Among them was a steer Don Good’s daughter, Linda, won the championship with in Riley County.”
Closely affiliated with KansasmState University throughout his lifetime, Albert counts among his acquaintances a number of recognizable professors: Bell, Weber, Cox and Good. “We had a herd of Don Good’s Angus cows in partnership for five years,” Albert
Swine operations were dispersed in 1985, and the final Herefords were sold in 2002. “We rented our grass to JC Cattle Company, so we still had Cindy Brown’s whiteface calves to look at every spring and could watch them grow,” Albert revealed.
Likewise, Albert and Gayla have been notable spectators at most Morris County Fair hog and cattle shows. “I always tried to help with those shows until I got so I couldn’t,” he recalled.
Perhaps the Morgans are most widely known for the livestock judging field day they provided livestock for and hosted on their Hilltop Hereford Ranch for 10 years in the
’70s and early’80s.
“We really have fond memories of all the youth who attended our contests,” Albert advised. “We still have them as adults come up to us and say they remember participating in our field day.”
Not only will the Morgans be moving from their beloved ranch, but they’ll be putting aside their dedicated upkeep of the Moss Springs Cemetery, and Gayla will retire her typewriter from writing the weekly Moss Springs community news.
Still, there will be no dull moments in their new town home with four grown children, seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and oodles of youth who need mentoring from a dedicated couple, Albert and Gayla Morgan, who’ll just love to help in any way they can.