Dr. David Morse, 86, of Urbana, died Monday (Oct. 21, 2019) at Clark-Lindsey Village.
David is survived by his wife Nancy, five children and 14 grandchildren. To them and David’s friends, the retired cardiologist radiated warmth and joy – even into his final weeks inside Clark-Lindsey’s East Green House, a home designed to care for those with dementia.
“We came to love him. It was easy to do,” said Rachel Little, a Green House staff member.
David was born on Jan. 7, 1933, in Brooklyn N.Y., the only child of William and Lillian Morse. He grew up in Ridgewood, N.J., and earned a U.S. Army ROTC scholarship to Cornell University. It was there, as a senior, that David learned that a local Presbyterian church had scheduled an open house to welcome the new freshman girls. He and his friends felt a duty to do the same. David met Nancy, which led to a first date over coffee. “He was just an easy person to talk to,” she remembers.
Graduation gave way to a 16-month military deployment – tense in its location (the border of North and South Korea), but relatively safe in its timing (two years after the ceasefire there.) David returned to a still-waiting Nancy, something he’d often recall in amazement, and the two married in 1957.
The two had five children over the next 11 years – a remarkable period of productivity that also saw Nancy formulating new Jell-O concoctions as a food chemist for General Foods Corp., David marshalling through medical school in Brooklyn, the start of parenting inside an attic apartment in Flatbush, and a job offer from a growing clinic in what seemed to the lifelong Easterners like a fine spot to raise a family: A college town in the middle of Illinois.
A fixture at Carle Hospital and Clinic into the next four decades, David treated patients, helped write curricula for the University of Illinois’ medical school, and taught hundreds of students who accompanied him on his hospital rounds. He served as president of the Illinois Heart Association.
Inside David and Nancy’s longtime home in southeast Urbana, family dinners meant lively conversations about school and sports, sometimes layered over each other in five-at-a-time fashion. Come winter breaks, David piloted the family station wagon to Wisconsin ski lodges. Summer vacation meant heading out for the New Jersey shore. As his passengers always knew, the sight of large roadside, cartoonish statues – a giant chicken, for instance – meant pulling over. “I need it for my next slide presentation at work!” he’d say, referring to his technique for breaking up the monotony of 20 consecutive images of cardiograms.
David retired from Carle in 1998, but kept teaching into his 70s. Instructions extended beyond physical diagnoses. “We will remember your ability to relate with patients and your obvious concern for their well-being,” a group of med students once wrote.
David’s full, actual retirement, circa 2008, gave way to more travelling with Nancy – England, Italy, Kenya – and to volunteer mentoring at Yankee Ridge Elementary School. There, a reserved third-grader with no adult male figures in his life, Joe Tull, began to open up – at one point telling David about kids who picked on him.
“Not everybody likes everybody,” Joe remembers David telling him. “You are a strong young man. You’re going to do things in life people will appreciate.”
They met for weekly lunch over the next seven years, sessions that were meaningful to Joe even as he noticed his mentor beginning to repeat his questions. “We used to help each other,” says Joe, now a junior at Urbana High School. “If it wasn’t for him being there for me, I don’t know where I’d be now.”
David’s ever-expanding brood of grandchildren all came to know “ge-schnitzes,” a sort of escalating demonstration of affection: Child on lap, facing forward, grandpa’s arms wrapped around them. “Small” was a quick hug. “Medium” a little more. “Big” really escalated the giggles. Then came “big-up-to-the-sky,” sometimes known as “big-up-to-the-moon.”
In recent days, as David’s loving family said their final words in person or the phone, his namesake grandchild lamented not being there in person. “I think I’d jump into the bed and get a ge-schnitz,” the younger David said, his voice breaking apart. “I’d want it to be beyond the moon this time.”
David is survived by his wife of 62 years, Nancy; two daughters, Cindy (Bill) Ketner, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; Carol (Chris) White, of Wilmette, Ill., and sons Peter (Peg) Watt-Morse, of Pittsburgh; Jim (Jill) Morse, of Knoxville, Tn., and Dan (Dana) Morse, of Washington DC.
Donations may be made to a medical school scholarship fund David and Nancy had established several years ago for students of limited means. The fund name and address are: The David and Nancy Morse Fund, University of Illinois Foundation,1305 West Green Street, MC-386, Urbana, Ill., 61801. Donations can also be made via https://uif.uillinois.edu/give-online. Donations also may be mailed to the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana.
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