PETERBOROUGH — The man who was a driving force behind the establishment of the RiverMead retirement community in Peterborough and the revitalization of Hitchiner Manufacturing Co. Inc. in Milford passed away at his RiverMead home this week.
When John Hopkins Morison died at 100 years old on Sept. 15, he left behind a legacy of community building through his business ventures and philanthropy work.
“He felt strongly it was important to look for ways to contribute to not only the well-being of the company, but the community,” said his son, John Hopkins Morison III of Mont Vernon.
As a trustee on many nonprofit boards, including the Currier Museum of Art, New Hampshire Public Television, Canterbury Shaker Village, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Matthew Thornton Health Plan, the first HMO in the state, he enhanced life in southern New Hampshire in many ways.
“He always was a great supporter of not-for-profit endeavors,” his son said.
Morison was born in Milwaukee in 1913 and grew up there, summering at the family homestead in Peterborough.
The Morison family is one of the original founders of the town.
In 1750, they established the Morison Homestead at Terrace Hill and the Upland Farm Homestead.
He left Milwaukee in 1931 to attend Harvard University. In 1939, he went to Brazil and remained there for 10 years, aside from a two-year tour of duty in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He and his wife, Olga de Souza Dantas of Rio de Janeiro, were married at Upland Farm in Peterborough in 1944.
Morison was working in South America, but returned to New Hampshire in 1949 when his father asked him to help revitalize manufacturing in southern New Hampshire.
After having worked for a manufacturing company in the Midwest for 20 years, his father, George Abbott Morison, returned to New Hampshire to retire and was appalled at the dismal state of the post-World War II economy in New Hampshire.
What had once been the country’s second-largest industrialized state per capita was rapidly losing its textile, shoe and woodworking industries among other smaller industries.
“My grandfather was looking for an opportunity to bring jobs back to southern New Hampshire. The textile mills had closed down in the 1920s,” Morison III said.
Together Morison and his father purchased Hitchiner Manufacturing Co. Inc. in the Amoskeag Millyard in Manchester.
As president, Morison took the failing company from bankruptcy and transformed it into a successful investment casting business.
In 1951 the company was relocated to Milford.
In statements provided by his son Morison said of Hitchiner, “Private ownership has been a key to the company’s growth and, more important, to serving the purpose of which my father and I acquired the company in 1949 – to provide healthy employment opportunities and build a sound economic base in the State of New Hampshire. … We’re here because the region needs strong, stable employers. To run the risk of selling out and having somebody move the business was certainly never part of our game plan.”
Within a year the company was breaking even. Over the decades the company expanded its workforce and turned handsome profits, going from about eight employees in the late 1940s to about 1,800 employees today and from bankruptcy to $200 million in sales this year.
Over the years Hitchiner has played a big part in the community. His father always encouraged employees to contribute to their communities by serving on their town boards.
And after the company’s attempt to build low incoming housing in Milford failed, the land was donated to the town as open space and is known today as Hitchiner Forest.
“Over the years he felt strongly that we had to look for ways to strengthen the community,” Morison said.
Today John Hopkins Morison III continues to run the company as chairman of Hitchiner Manufacturing Co.
Morison lived in Amherst and Lyndeborough for about 50 years.
In 1998 he moved to RiverMead in Peterborough, a retirement community he played a large role in establishing.
“He was the one that had the original idea for a community like RiverMead in Peterborough. We sold some land as part of that effort,” Morison III said, and Morison served as chairman of the trustees of RiverMead.
The land was a gravel pit owned by the Morison family, said Jan Eaton, RiverMead’s director of resident services and marketing.
As the land was reaching its end as a useful gravel pit, Morison was looking for a way to use the land to benefit the community specifically the seniors of the community, Eaton said.
After years of research and talking to people in the region, he and some other investors hired a consulting firm to start marketing a retirement community.
“That was one of the things that John was struggling with. People that lived in the Monadnock region and they love the region and wanted to stay and age in place,” Eaton said. “There wasn’t any place for them to go in the Monadnock region at the time.”
RiverMead is a life care retirement community in which residents live independently, but as their needs change they transition into continual care and then into end of life care, Eaton said.
Construction began in 1993 and was completed at the end of 1995, Eaton said.
After moving into RiverMead with his wife Olga, Morison remained active outside of the community, but also helped shape the community life within the RiverMead community as well as build bridges between the retirement community and the surrounding community, she said. “Once he moved into RiverMead he helped to shape how that community developed.”
“He was a dynamic individual. He was an amazing person. It was a pleasure for me to have known him and worked with him,” Eaton said. “He will be missed there is no doubt.”
“It helped us on the farm cause we were able to sell some land,” Morison said, and today RiverMead generates about $900,000 a year in tax revenue for the town and is a huge job producer in the region.
“That’s a pretty good example of things he liked to do,” Morison said of his father. “That was his thing.”