Jun. 6—Family, friends and fans of Don Morris and his wife, Cheryl Hart, gathered at Hulman Center Saturday for a celebration of life to honor the couple, who tragically died May 27 in a vehicle-pedestrian accident while on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
They had been married 32 years.
"It's with profound sadness and much love that we must say goodbye to two people who had hearts that could blanket us all with enough love and caring to cover everyone. Just look around you," said Patrick Chaney, who became close, lifelong friends with Morris when the two were sophomores at Terre Haute's Garfield High School.
Chaney closed his remarks, saying, "Love you Don ... until we meet again."
Morris was a well-known musician and public servant, who most recently served on the Vigo County Council and previously on the Terre Haute City Council. Hart, an avid runner and cyclist, was the first female logistics branch manager for ABF Freight and later worked for Landstar System, Inc.
The couple had two children, Carson and Paul.
The celebration included live music by Garrett Thorn, Carson Morris' boyfriend.
Speakers Tracie Dittemore and Dana Jeffers shared memories of their friend Hart, while Chaney and David Haynes reminisced about Morris.
Prior to the celebration, a slideshow of the couple showed pictures of poignant moments in their lives, including Morris playing a guitar, Hart cycling or running with friends and many photos of family and good times.
Speakers at times struggled to continue their remembrances as they described cherished times spent with close, caring friends.
Jeffers described Hart as "my dear, precious friend ... She was friendly, kind, happy and fun to be around. You would look forward to seeing her again and again."
She also described her friend as intelligent, dynamic, confident and savvy in life and business.
They met through Trained in Terre Haute, which prepares participants for a half-marathon. After they met, they ran together regularly.
"She didn't let go of her old friends when she got new ones. She had more true friends than anyone I know. She made every one of them feel special," Jeffers said. "Her friendship knew no limits."
Hart encouraged her when Jeffers felt inadequate as she began Trained in Terre Haute. Hart was encouraging to all of her friends.
"When I broke my foot and lost my mom in the same weekend, Cheryl was there," she said.
Hart "loved people, she loved life, she loved her family, she loved her friends," Jeffers said. And when Hart saw someone needing help, she would reach out — whether it was to hold a door, assist someone with a heavy bag or help someone with their children.
"She worked hard, played hard and had so much fun ... If you were with Cheryl, you laughed a lot," she said.
Jeffers encouraged those attending to make the world a better place by being more like Hart. "Smile more. Laugh. Be positive. Show up for family and friends. Be kind. Be humble. Do things for the right reason. ... And always have fun."
Chaney described Morris and Hart as "the best and the brightest of Terre Haute."
Morris chose to stay in his hometown, where he looked after his parents, married, raised his children and "contributed to this town that he loved so much."
Prior to the program, Chaney shared his fond memories of his close friend. Both went to Garfield High School and both were in bands; they would get together to play guitar or basketball.
"We just hit it off from that point on" and became lifelong friends, Chaney said. They were like brothers, and Chaney will miss the banter, give-and-take and humorous disagreements they sometimes had.
He'll also miss "the love Don gave and the closeness that he showed me and my family."
While it was difficult to reminisce about his friend at a public gathering, Chaney believes it was important.
"It's like you want to wake up from a bad dream, and then when you realize it's the reality, I think to be able to talk about him and to share the memories and to keep him alive is really why we're here," he said.
Of Morris, he said, "I'll remember what a great husband and father he was and what kind of energy he put into this community and what a loss it is for Terre Haute. He was part of the soul of this community."
Hart "never met a stranger. You could drop her into any situation and she would become part of the fabric. She came up with Don to see us when our son was born, it was like she had known me and my wife forever," said Chaney, who lives in Illinois.
Once Morris and Hart met each other, "It was like they were one," Chaney said. While they pursued their own interests, they always supported each other.
"Truly, it was a beautiful love story," Chaney said.
He believes their legacy will be their willingness to step forward and help out wherever it was needed. "If there was a fundraiser or a dunk tank or ... you name the cause, Don was there to support it and Cheryl was there by his side."
Haynes, who grew up in the Highland neighborhood across the alley from Morris, said the two were lifelong friends. When they were young, he recalled Morris' mother calling out for "Donnie Wayne" to come home after they had been doing "whatever," whether listening to music, playing basketball or splashing in a pool.
Haynes and his wife, Nancy, recently met the couple at a local pub, where Morris and Hart talked about traveling to Myrtle Beach.
At one point, Hart talked about a trip traveling Route 66, and the Haynes' said, "Count us in."
Later, Haynes ordered a Route 66 guide that he sent to Hart, knowing that if he sent it to her, "It would happen."
But fate had other plans.
Haynes recalled the countless times Morris "laughed until he cried ... usually about something Cheryl said or did."
As he opened the celebration of life, Haynes urged those attending to "Keep in mind, Don and Cheryl would want you to laugh until you cry ... and cry until you laugh."
He also asked them to remember "all the great things these two people brought to our lives and to this community."
Among those attending the celebration of life was Dr. Randy Stevens. "I knew Don in high school. He graduated one year after I did from Garfield High School. Great guy. Great person. Great human being, as was his wife, Cheryl."
Morris played at the reception when Stevens married his wife, Debbie. "What a great memory we have of that reception," he said.
While family didn't speak at the celebration of life, the couple's children both wrote comments included in a program.
"My mom and dad touched so many lives, and so many people felt a deep connection to our family," Paul Morris wrote. "They say that stories live on as long as there are people around to tell them, and I take comfort in knowing that the people here will continue telling stories about Donnie and Cheryl for many years to come."