Deacon Bennie Morris, Sr., is a bear of a man with a deep speaking voice, but in church choirs and with his quartet he sings soprano. He can hit the high notes and has sung in church choirs for many years. Bennie is a Chicago native and a lifelong churchgoer. He was baptized at age 14 and has been active his entire life as a church volunteer. In addition to singing in choirs, he is currently general chairman and treasurer for the Wisconsin General Baptist State Laymen and the treasurer of the deacon ministry at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
He relocated to Milwaukee in 2002 in order to be closer to his future wife, Deloise. After moving to Milwaukee, Bennie joined New Hope. For the past four years he volunteered as a delivery driver for the church food pantry ministry, which is affiliated with Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. He picks up donated food from one of several participating food suppliers and delivers it to the church on Milwaukee’s North Side for sorting and distribution.
The Wisconsin General Baptist Laymen hold monthly meetings and Bennie has attended faithfully for a number of years. Several years ago, Bennie helped to organize an annual Deacon Recognition Banquet for the Wisconsin General Baptist Laymen. Each year the recognition banquet has increased its attendance, requiring him to devote more time toward helping plan and organize the event. He said he likes to keep busy and does not find his church volunteer work burdensome.
“I enjoy helping others,” he said. “There is a passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus asks his disciples to ‘feed my sheep’. I like to stay busy and I’m still in pretty good health, so this is something that I believe is worthwhile.”
Bennie and his wife are also the foster parents of two young brothers who are still in elementary school. He has been a foster parent for most of his adult life. The couple have seven children: Dervin, Antwann, Bennie, Jr., Aaron, Carmen, Katresa and Bernard. They have 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Bennie first began working as a grocery store clerk when he was 11 years old. He retired in 2004 after working for 30 years at Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. When he retired, he was a sleeping car attendant on the California Zephyr line, which runs for six days round-trip between Chicago and Oakland. He served in that capacity for 17 years. He said he enjoyed the travel and the time off between assignments, but during the six-day round-trip run, he often went with little or no sleep.
Soon after he was hired by Amtrak, Bennie began smoking tobacco, partly as a way to remain alert during long shifts. After he joined New Hope Church in Milwaukee, he decided to quit smoking immediately and said he has not smoked a cigarette since he decided to give it up in September 2002.
Although he has never run as a candidate, Bennie has volunteered numerous hours for various political causes and candidates. He has also served as an election inspector in Wisconsin and when he lived in Illinois.
When he was a young child Bennie said he wanted to be a fireman, but his mother, Lois, talked him out of it over concern for his safety. She was slightly less successful convincing him that he should not pursue his passion to become a cowboy.
During summers as a child, Bennie said he would visit his mother’s family in Arkansas, where he was first exposed to horses. This led to a lifelong love of being around and working with horses. When he is not busy volunteering for church he said he likes to watch western movies on television. He continues to be fascinated with horses and now owns two. For the past six years he has been a member of the Silverado Trailriders. The club organizes charitable events, educational workshops for children, group trail rides and “hoe downs.”
“I’m a cowboy,” he said with a straight face. Many of the group activities offered to the Central City are rare encounter with horses and the ‘Wild West’ cowboy stories, include the largely overlooked vital contribution African American cowboys made to helping the United States become a transcontinental nation.
“We have a lot of youth who are fascinated to learn there were and still are African American cowboys roaming the range,” he said.