Throughout his life, Tom Morain was less determined to accomplish extraordinary things than to do ordinary things with extraordinary love — and ended up doing both. He received and shared blessings of joy for 73 years and passed away in Lamoni on Oct. 10 after a seven-month journey through cancer.
Of all his blessings, he was most proud of and grateful for his marriage of 51 years to the one and only Vikki (Updike) Morain and their co-production of two kind and thoughtful sons, Joel and Michael. He valued more than anything else his relationships with his family and countless friends.
Thomas Jeffrey Morain was born on May 1, 1947, in Jefferson, the fourth of five children of Fred and Lois (Garver) Morain. He felt blessed and privileged to be part of a family who sustained and supported one another throughout his entire life.
He played right field for the Jefferson Sox and helped them win at least two Little League pennants by racking up the team’s highest batting average, a fact you can look up in the Jefferson Bee & Herald, which his family published for 75 years. He also wanted to humbly remind you that he twice helped the Jefferson football team defeat Perry and personally fetched the cowbell trophy for display in its rightful home.
Tom was a brilliant musician — a pianist and four-time All-State French horn player — and a gifted student who appreciated his teachers, especially Miss Kathleen Fields, who taught him how to diagram sentences in seventh grade, and Dr. Barbara Higdon, who challenged and inspired him during his freshman year at Graceland University in Lamoni and for decades to come.
Tom spent two years at Graceland, where he met Vikki, and continued his studies at the University of Iowa, where he earned a doctorate in American Studies. He again felt blessed and privileged, this time for a medical deferment (from a football injury) that enabled him to continue his studies even while many friends and classmates fought in the Vietnam War.
Tom and Vikki were married on June 21, 1969, in Independence, Mo., and lived in Iowa City before moving to Ames in 1973. Both taught at Iowa State University, where Tom counted himself enormously lucky to share an office with Dr. Dorothy Schwieder, a mentor whom he considered the “den mother of Iowa history” and one of the most gracious women he ever knew.
Tom worked at Living History Farms from 1981 to 1995 as its director of research and interpretation and helped the fledgling organization become what a former Smithsonian executive once called “the best agricultural museum anywhere” — a phrase Tom never failed to mention in various grant applications.
At the Farms, he slept in a freezing cabin, endured an Ioway Indian sweat lodge, created a successful internship program and initiated the popular historic dinners for the public, which invariably featured pot roasts and homemade rolls slathered in butter. He was grateful for his colleagues, a group he described as the most positive, dedicated and bizarre group of people with whom he ever worked.
Tom wrote or edited several notable books about Iowa history, including “Prairie Grass Roots,” an award-winning account of his beloved hometown during the early 20th century.
For six years he led the State Historical Society of Iowa, where he developed another set of enduring friendships, and in 2009 won its highest honor, the Petersen-Harlan Lifetime Achievement Award, for his devotion to sharing Iowa history with Iowans of all ages.
By this time, Tom had returned to Graceland, where he worked from 2001 until the end of his life, helping to bring Iowa Public Radio to southern Iowa and expanding cultural and educational opportunities for southern Iowa youth through AmeriCorps and the Dekko Foundation. He was especially grateful for his Graceland friends and coworkers, with whom he shared a common faith and a community-focused outlook on life.
Graceland is affiliated with the Community of Christ, of which Tom was a member since childhood. He was called to the priesthood but delayed his ordination until 1984, when priesthood opportunities were extended to women, and culminated his lifelong ministry as an evangelist. Along the way, he performed weddings, funerals and countless hours of ministry from the piano bench. He appreciated the Ames congregation for helping to raise his sons in a community of faith and for the way they welcomed his musical experimentation. Although he felt an occasional pang of guilt for once slowing down the tempo of “O, Holy Night” while his sister held on (and on) to a high A-flat, he managed to get over it.
Tom enjoyed his time at the church family campgrounds at Guthrie Grove and especially loved church potlucks, where he proudly “trained” various congregants to bring his favorite, rhubarb pie. He often measured a congregation’s spiritual health by the variety of its dessert table.
He played a mean game of bridge with his brothers and once teamed up with his mother to win a tournament in Jefferson. He wrote with impeccable, old-school Palmer penmanship. He loved many dogs in his life — Tony, Lilly, Gus, Spot, Pete-Pete, Tux, Watson, Wanda and Lucy — and learned to live with a very long-lived cat, Tiger, who joined the family in Ames on a vote of 3 to 1.
Tom was preceded in death by his parents and sister-in-law, Dagmar Morain Clark.
He is survived by his wife, Vikki; sons Joel (Abby Rodd) of Cooperstown, N.Y., and Michael (Heath Smith) of Des Moines; siblings Rick (Kathy) Morain of Jefferson, Bill (Sherry) of Lamoni, Steve (Erna) of Waukee, and Deb (Randy) Burnight of Sioux City; sisters-in-law Diane Morain of Houston and Clay Pytlik of Morgan Hill, Calif.; brother-in-law Lee (Marian) Updike of Independence, Mo.; and many, many cousins, nieces, nephews and friends — including one who recently described him as “the epitome of contagious joy.”
A memorial service is tentatively planned for May 1, 2021, in Lamoni, and whenever it happens, ice cream will be served on the lawn.
Tom’s cremains eventually will be interred at Rose Hill Cemetery in Lamoni.
In the meantime, stories and memories about Tom can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in a digital scrapbook, and financial donations in his memory can be sent to Outreach International and Graceland University’s Division of Visual and Performing Arts. … “Happy Trails,” Tom.