Tryon’s Ransom Morris project selected as recipient of 2013 NC Main Street award

Published 3:18pm Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tryon’s Ransom Morris project has been selected as a recipient of the singular N.C. Small Town Main Street (STMS) 2013 Promotion Award of Merit.

This is the second year in a row one of Tryon’s projects have been selected for a STMS award as last year the Tryon Depot restoration was the recipient of an economic restructuring award.

The town was notified on Oct. 11 that it would receive the award at the North Carolina Main Street Annual Awards Dinner and Program in New Bern, N.C. on Jan. 29, 2014.

The idea of the promotion started years before the town’s downtown statue, Morris the horse, was restored. Chip O’Brien and Johnny Hipp approached the town a few years ago and offered to repair the decaying statue, but at the time the town did not have funding. O’Brien’s wife, Dee, said the town needed to kidnap the statue and do a ransom project to raise money for its restoration.

Tryon Town Council agreed to form a committee consisting of chair Patti D’Arbanville, Dee O’Brien, Lisa Moser and Tryon’s economic development director Crys Armbrust. The committee staged a “kidnapping” of Morris by Tryon fire and public works personnel in the middle of the night.

The community awoke to Morris missing and the following day the Tryon Daily Bulletin headlined the story and published the “ransom” note.

Residents wondered for some time what happened to Morris since pranksters had taken the statue three times over its 75-year history.

Ransom notes continued for months and the fundraising began with no start-up money.

Local artist Betty Burdue created a poster for giveaway with a donation and McKinsey Printing printed the poster at no cost. Organizations and individuals made contributions, while children drew Morris scenes, which were highlighted during a fundraising event.

The final event occurred on July 28, 2012 at the Tryon Fine Arts Center where the committee held a gala titled, “All Morris, All the Time Exhibit & Auction Gala,” that raised $13,000 in one hour. Coupled with the $12,000 already raised, the committee met its $25,000 fundraising goal for the restoration and future maintenance.

“To have Tryon development projects highlighted two years running is indeed a privilege and an honor,” Armbrust said. “Equally important, too, to recognize here is the high level of commitment by our citizens and the town’s leadership, whose participation in the Ransom Morris Project, allowed us, in short order … to refurbish our town’s beloved symbol, Morris.”

Committee chair D’Arbanville was thrilled about the award.

“In the long run the whole town helped to make it a very successful enterprise,” D’Arbanville said.

Dee O’Brien said the award is an added bonus.

“I’m thrilled for Tryon and as a 20-year resident of Polk County it didn’t surprise me the support that was given to Morris,” she said.

Lisa Moser said the project wasn’t just about raising money to restore Morris, but for the community to come together. She said one woman in her 80s grew up in Tryon and wanted to do her part, but only had $10 to give.

“When she saw Morris back standing there, she knew she helped bring him back and was a part of that,” Moser said. “I did it for the people who see Morris every day who greets them into town. And it’s going to continue for generations to come.”

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples said this is an outstanding award.

“Which just goes to show that we are nearly perfect, always Tryon,” said Peoples. “Once again our unflagging citizens have stepped up to the plate and hit another homerun for Tryon.”


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