The chemistry of philanthropy

If your shirt is anti-wrinkle, saving you time on ironing, then one of the people you can thank is Nancy Mitchell Morris ’60. The alumna was part of a group that created the effective cotton treatment, just one of many accomplishments in her 30 years working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an analytical chemist.

Morris was raised in Jonesboro, Georgia, which was then a rural community, and her family didn’t have much to give financially. However, her parents were always willing to help others any way they could; they would help raise money for different causes like the American Cancer Society and participate in the March of Dimes.

When she toured LaGrange College as a prospective student, she saw her first play. Although Morris can’t recall the name of the play, she remembers seeing the students acting in it and how entranced she was with the show. She quickly chose LC to pursue her original goal of becoming an English teacher.

Morris’ plans changed after coming to the Hill, though. Professor Arthur M. Hicks ignited her interest in chemistry. She hadn’t taken a chemistry class before, but Morris found it challenging and enjoyable, sending her life on a new trajectory.

“He made me think I could really understand chemistry,” Morris says of Hicks. “He was such a great teacher who made it all seem so logical. So, I decided I wasn’t going to major in English.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and education at LaGrange, she entered the master’s program at Auburn University for inorganic chemistry. While at Auburn, she met her husband, Cletus, who was also a chemist and was studying for his Ph.D. After earning her master’s, Morris worked at West Point Pepperell to stay nearby for Cletus’ last two years of graduate school.

The couple found jobs in New Orleans, Louisiana, in a research facility for the Department of Agriculture. Her husband initially worked on flame-retardant fabrics, and she was an analytical chemist who worked with “everyone in the building” to verify they accomplished their research goals.

Her area of expertise was infrared and atomic adsorption spectroscopy, which she used to study cotton and treated cotton. Some of these treatments were used to create wrinkle-resistant, flame-retardant or antibacterial properties. She also researched prevalence of leftover arsenic in cotton fields where the poison was once used as a pesticide. Her work helped bring many advancements in cotton use and cultivation, and she would stay at the department for three decades.

Morris’ life changed tragically in November 2003 when her only son, Kendall Morris ’93, died from sepsis after contracting pneumonia. Four months later, her husband passed away from the neurodegenerative disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). They had been married 42 years.

“I was devastated,” Morris says. “So, I kept trying to think about how I could best ensure they would not be forgotten. I decided I would establish a memorial scholarship for our son here (at LaGrange College), and I established a memorial scholarship for my husband at Auburn.”

She gives equally to each institution, ensuring the names of her son and husband will live on by helping others. The Kendall Eugene Morris ’92 Scholarship is awarded to students at LaGrange College who have financial need and are in good academic standing, with a preference for students in Theatre Arts, Kendall’s major.

Although Morris and her husband had been supporters before, increasingly giving back what they could to their alma maters, Morris now felt called to do more to help students like she had been helped.

“I wouldn’t have been able to come to LaGrange if not for the scholarships I received,” she notes. “It changed my life. I was planning to teach high school. By coming here, I got a major in chemistry instead of whatever else I would have majored in. I might not have chosen chemistry had I gone somewhere else because I wouldn’t have had Art Hicks to inspire me and make me think I could actually do this.

“… I do feel like somebody paid it forward for me. So, I’m trying to pay it forward for someone else who, when they are in a position to do the same, will be inspired to help others the way they’ve been helped—as I did.”

As part of that effort, Morris joined the Quadrangle Society to leave LaGrange College a bequest in her plans. Morris said the effort allows her to make a large gift through manageable payments, which will establish endowments to perpetually fund both scholarships.

“I feel good about their (Cletus and Kendall’s) legacy,” Morris said. “I’ve met most of the students who have received their scholarships, and it feels good to know they can follow their dreams.”

Consider planning a gift like Nancy Mitchell Morris by contacting Andy Geeter, Director of Development, at or 706-880-8060. Your commitment will make you a member of the Quadrangle Society and you can become a member of other Lifetime Giving Societies as well.