A barn fire and Farm Bureau’s Leadership Institute course are two starkly different events that helped shape his life.
In 1976, Morton was a recent graduate of Clinton High School attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Farmand Industry Short Course. The day before final exams he got a call that his parents’ dairy barn had caught fire.
Those on the scene were able to turn many of the 68 cows out of the burning barn, but the frightened herd’s natural instinct was to run back into the structure. All but five perished in the fire.
“It was devastating,” Morton said. “For so many years I couldn’t even talk about it.”
Looking back on the fire he says, “Bad things happen to everybody. When you go through those things, it’s not so much what happened, but what you do afterwards.”
He had a decision to make. With no cows to return to that spring, he signed on for another year of Farm and Industry Short Course. About two years later, the Mortons rebuilt a barn for 50 cows and with his parents help, he began milking.
Fast forward to 2008; Morton was 50, not married, without children and tired of being tied down.
“It was time to sell the cows and do other things,” he recalled. Having already served as president of the Rock County Farm Bureau, he decided to apply for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s leadership Institute.
“After that things just sort of took off,” he said. “Myconfidence increased as I went more places and did more things. It did a lot for me in terms of public speaking, relating to others and preparation skills.”
“The people” was his quick answer when asked his favorite part of the Institute.
“The one thing that surprised me was how much we learned from each other,” he said. “All 15 of us helped each other with positive feedback and constructive criticism. It was never competitive. It was always about helping each other. Everybody wanted everybody to be better. It was such a positive experience.”
“It’s like going to camp,” he said with a laugh. “I’d do it again if I could.”
Morton has remained close friends with his classmates from across the state and said, “They are the kind of people you can’t wait to see.”
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the Institute and my classmates,” he added.
The Institute led to being elected to represent District 2 (Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Rock and Sauk counties) on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Board of Directors last December. He lists promoting the Institute to others among his priorities.
Morton strongly agrees with the Institute’s mission of building leaders, not just for Farm Bureau, but for rural Wisconsin.
“Farm Bureau members have to step up and be involved on town, county and school district boards as well,” he said. “If we don’t have people with an appreciation for farming on these
boards, we’re in trouble.”
Morton is serving his 17th year on the La Prairie Town Board, where all five members are farmers and Farm Bureau members. He described La Prairie, located just southeast of Janesville with a population of more than 63,000, as a very rural town made up of residents who want to keep it that way and as a result have resisted development and annexation requests.
A past member of WFBF’s statewide policy development committee and Volunteers for Agriculture political action committee, Morton said, “The more I got involved with Farm Bureau, the more good things I saw that it was doing. It works on things I believed in.”
“Each county Farm Bureau is different with its own personality and unique events,” he said of the six he represents as the District 2 director. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be in a grassroots organization. It also keeps things interesting for me.”
Arch’s Two Trucks and Other Farm Facts
Story by Casey Langan. Original version appeared in the October|November 2015 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.