Sue Morris, who owned and operated the Caveland roller rink in Festus, had a no-nonsense approach to dealing with young people, according to her daughter, Kim Morris, 59, of Florida.
“There was a tall kid standing in the lobby, smoking a cigarette,” she said. “Mom went right up to him, reached up and grabbed it out of his mouth. She said, real matter-of-fact, ‘You’re too young to smoke.’ He just looked down and said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
Mrs. Morris, who died June 4 at age 98, still recognized “her” kids when she ran into former customers, her daughter said.
“Somebody would come up to her and start talking about Caveland. She’d say, ‘Here’s a souvenir,’ and hand them a free pass,” Kim said.
Mrs. Morris, the youngest of nine children, grew up in Horine after her father took a job at PPG in Crystal City.
“She used to tell us how they came on the train,” said Cindy Morris Beger of Rolla, Kim’s twin sister. “A farmer loaded all 11 of them on a wagon and took them to their house.”
After finishing at the one-room school in Horine, Mrs. Morris worked at a Festus drugstore, then at Chappue Jewelry, run by her watchmaker brother, Kermit.
She married Roland Morris during the war, and they had two daughters shortly after.
“Mom wrote for the newspaper – a little column about neighborhood goings-on,” Kim said. “They were hilarious, the bits and pieces I’ve seen.”
The twins came along in 1959 and their brother a year later.
“My dad was a frustrated inventor – he could do anything with his hands,” Cindy said. “He got the crazy idea to build the world’s only roller rink inside a cave.”
The Morrises opened Caveland in the late 1950s, pouring a concrete floor more than 200 feet long and installing a stage and seating from a defunct local theater.
“No rink has that size floor,” Kim said. “You could get some real speed up – and it was glassy smooth, no bumps or anything. We would fly.”
The Morris children helped Mom out at the rink while their dad worked in St. Louis.
Sand filtered down from the walls and ceiling, and moisture was a constant battle.
“We had to sweep the whole floor before every session,” Cindy said.
“If you didn’t run the dehumidifier, everything was just slick and wet,” Kim said.
After Mrs. Morris and her husband split up in the early 1970s, she struggled to make ends meet.
One solution was to turn the rink into a concert venue. Acts like Ike and Tina Turner; Ted Nugent; Bob Seger; Bob Kuban and the In Men, as well as numerous local bands, played in the cave.
So, there were regular skate sessions five days a week, and private parties the other days. In between, she’d bring in the bands.
“Most of the time, she was the only adult in the building,” Kim said. “She did admissions, concessions, DJ, worked the sign and lights. Everything happened without a problem and without a break.”
Curiously enough, there was one thing she never did.
“I don’t think she ever put a pair of skates on,” Kim said with a laugh.
Caveland was a popular hangout for local youth.
“This was a safe place for kids to be,” Kim said. “If they didn’t have money, she let them work it out – hand out skates, work concessions. They all respected her, and they learned you had to uphold her expectations in order to get certain privileges.”
Cindy said her friends would go to her mother with their relationship issues.
“They trusted her; she was their confidante. She talked to them about respecting themselves, being strong women. She loved it.”
Both sisters recall the many nights parents failed to pick up their children at session’s end.
“We’d wait and wait, and she’d eventually load everybody up and take them all home,” Kim said. “At her funeral, one woman said, ‘Your mom challenged us other moms by example.’
In 1985, Mrs. Morris closed Caveland.
“She loved it, but she just couldn’t go on anymore,” Cindy said. “By then she was 65, and she was tired.”
Mrs. Morris spent her retirement years puttering around the house.
“She read the paper, front to back, every day,” Kim said. “And she did crosswords every day.”
Mrs. Morris enjoyed gardening, and mowed a sizeable swath of her huge yard with a push mower.
For her 80th birthday, her children organized a surprise party in the cave, now a private residence.
“Bob Kuban came, and Bill Bradley sent a card,” Cindy said.
In recent years, Mrs. Morris began to have health issues.
“She had eye surgery in late 2012, and she told me later, ‘I’m having trouble with my memory, and I think the anesthesia affected me.’ She was sharp enough to know there was a definite change.”
She quit driving voluntarily, and had caregivers come in to help so she could remain in her home.
“Cindy came every weekend, and I’d stay with her five or six weeks out of the year,” Kim said. “She got weaker; she was losing muscle. She just kind of faded away.”
The sisters think their mom will be remembered for her love of children.
“At her funeral, someone said, ‘This town would be a very different place without the effect your mom had,’” Kim said. “All those hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids? She took care of them. They were her extended family.”
“Life Story,” posted Saturdays on Leader Publications’ website, focuses on one individual’s impact on his or her community.