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December 17, 2012

Photo courtesy Erin Rice

Longtime Pine Tree Society Kids’ Project volunteer Tom Morgan, center, receives a special plaque at his recent retirement party. With him are Pine Tree’s volunteer coordinator Jeremy Lucas, left, and Executive Director Anne Marsh.

Volunteer, 81, honored by his adaptive family

By Deborah Sayer
dsayer@pressherald.com
News Assistant

Jeremy Lucas recalled his first conversation with Tom Morgan.

It was Lucas' second day on the job as the Pine Tree Society's volunteer coordinator and Morgan was a longtime volunteer woodworker, who built adaptive equipment for the organization's The Kids Project program.

"Tom looked at me and said, 'I'll be (retiring) soon. So, you should probably find a replacement for me,'" said Lucas.

That was seven years, several hundred woodworking projects and 40,000 volunteer hours ago.

But, now it's finally official. Morgan, 81, of Scarborough, has retired.

Last Wednesday, an intimate group of co-workers and friends gathered at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport to celebrate Morgan's work and honor his legacy and investment in the organization that aims to improve the lives of individuals with physical disabilities.

A former print shop business and art gallery owner, Morgan took up woodworking as a hobby 30 years ago.

He never considered himself a master woodworker and didn't even have a woodshop at his home.

For the past 13 years, Morgan rented a commercial space in Scarborough and purchased the power and hand tools he needed to complete a wide variety of wood projects for Pine Tree, all with his own finances.

Pine Tree supplied the Baltic birch wood and hardware used to create the designs.

Morgan was one of about 40 volunteer woodworkers who built adjustable classroom, therapy, seating and positioning equipment and adaptive toys for special-needs youths who face a variety of physical challenges due to conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.

He was a natural at the work and excelled at coming up with creative and practical solutions to address that wide range of physical challenges, thus helping disabled children to live fuller lives.

Morgan worked from 40-plus template designs, most of which he created, and used feedback provided by Lucas and customers' therapists to customize the pieces.

He added accessories such as tilting trays, leg extensions, pommels and lateral supports that could be adjusted for height, length or a variety of angles with the turn of a knob.

Morgan often submitted the finished pieces almost apologetically, saying, "It isn't pretty but it is sturdy."

Lucas begged to differ.

"Tom did real quality work for us," said Lucas. "He's an amazingly generous man, who really invested himself in the Kids Project. He worked six days a week to build this equipment for our customers -- for a fraction of the usual asking price and in far less time than if we'd have ordered it commercially."

One of Morgan's favorite pieces was a bed he built that included special lift equipment in the headboard that allowed a person to get in and out of bed unassisted -- which meant the person didn't have to move to a nursing home. The bed normally retails for about $6,000; it cost Morgan just $600 to make.

"Making these pieces adaptable and affordable is our mission," said Lucas. "Most of this kind of equipment is ordered by schools as learning aids for the classroom. But parents often request duplicate pieces be made for the home. That can be expensive. But, thanks to volunteers like Tom, we are able to provide this equipment for them at 40 to 75 percent less than commercial prices."

Morgan was retired when he came to the work. He said he derived great satisfaction from the craft and the interactions it afforded.

"I always had an open door policy, inviting others to come into my shop to ask questions and exchange ideas," he said. "I found that such interactions made us all better at our craft."

Last month, Morgan closed the shop and sold all his power and hand tools. But, not before he passed on his templates and knowledge of the process to a core group of Pine Tree volunteers to ensure that the quality of work continues.

As seemed fitting, Pine Tree officials commissioned a fully functioning, miniature replica of its popular "multi chair" for Morgan as a retirement memento. The tiny wooden chair is replete with tiny adaptive equipment and an inscribed plaque honoring Morgan's invaluable contributions to the organization.

"Tom's made hundreds of these chairs for us over the years. So it seemed like an appropriate way to honor him," said Lucas.

Morgan proudly displays the miniature multi chair on a table in his den.

A further honor: A new stool being sold in The Kids Project online catalog has been named after Morgan. The one-legged "Tom Stool" helps children with attention deficit disorder to focus better.

Summing up his 13 years of service with the Kids Project, Morgan said, "I never considered myself to be greatly altruistic. I did this because it's what I liked to do. But it has been a huge benefit for handicapped children. And that makes the work terribly rewarding."

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com





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