At the end of November, Petrified Forest National Park will lose two icon employees to retirement – Bobby and Johnnie Morris. These brothers started working at Petrified Forest in 1962 – the same year it changed from a National Monument to a National Park. It’s also the same year the headquarters building was being built. Although Johnnie worked elsewhere for a couple of years early on, together they still dedicated over 102 years of their time and effort to the park.
Both of these gentlemen are warm and easy to smile. Bobby, the older brother, has been a painter for most of his career, on the maintenance crew. He is fond of telling anyone who asks that he was responsible for the Painted Desert, a portion of which is included in the park. When asked when he’ll need to repaint it, Bobby will say, “After a rain, when the colors come out.” Johnnie has been an equipment operator for most of his career, operating a road grader, backhoe, and loader, primarily. He is quieter by nature and his work placed him more often on the road maintenance crew.
The brothers are more comfortable speaking Navajo than English (although their English is fine) and you won’t get a reply if you try to email them. Nevertheless, they have been teachers and mentors to many of the members of the Petrified Forest maintenance crew over their decades of service. They have touched every system, building, road, and trail in the park, multiple times. They helped build the headquarters complex and were still on staff when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And they have touched every employee at Petrified Forest over the last 50 years, too, with their smiles and kindness.
When you think that Petrified Forest was first set aside 108 years ago and realize that these two gentlemen have been working at the park nearly half that time, it’s not hard to imagine that they are not only the longest-serving employees in the history of the park but could likely be the longest serving there ever will be – certainly there will never be a pair of siblings who duplicate their feat.
At their retirement party recently, Bobby told me he used to regale his grandchildren with stories of he and his brother wrangling dinosaurs in order to keep them from eating people. As evidence he would point to the skeletons on display in the park’s museum. We will miss Bobby and Johnnie Morris, although they will not be too far away – two daughters and one son of these brothers continue working at the park and Bobby will continue painting as a park volunteer in December.