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Idaho Loses a Living Legend

By: Joey Endicott

On January 3, 2017, I received a call from a good friend of mine, with news that didn’t stand to reason.  Johnny Morris, the pastor of the Cowboy Church in Midvale, had passed away.  This couldn’t be happening, I thought.  Johnny was a real-life superhero; he was larger than life.  He was a living legend.

When I moved to Midvale in January of 2013, I started out as an intern at Happy Hollow Ranch owned by Glen and Jennifer Gregston.  They had another intern, Sarah, and throughout the first few days, I noticed everybody’s conversation always seemed to drift back to this character named “Johnny.”  In the few days before I met him, I put together a picture of him in my head, knowing only that his life revolved around the Cowboy Church and cattle.  The man I met, though, I never could have imagined.

Johnny looked like no one else I had ever seen.  His mustache was long but at the same time meticulously groomed.  There was something different about the shape of his cowboy hat; it had a certain character that added to his presence.  He wore a wild rag around his neck with a metal slide, and a vest that gave him a formal appearance.  He wore leather chaps over his Levi’s and leather cuffs over the wrists of his shirts.  It was the same with his possessions, as could be seen in the showpiece barn he built himself from collected materials.  Every piece inside, whether it was a knife, a saddle rack, or an old photograph, was a priceless artifact that told a unique story.  

I learned that Johnny dressed, lived, and loved according to the Cowboy Code.  He explained that the Code wasn’t just a set of rules; it was a way of life.  This is why he would work around the clock, and then drop everything he was doing to pray with a friend in need.  This is why he thanked and honored every military servicemember and veteran who came his way.  He cherished his wife Trudy, who is in every way Johnny’s equal companion, and loved her with everything he had.  He was a devoted father and grandfather as well.  Johnny was so talented in his work, so wise in his experiences, and so true in his character, that it would have been easy for him to let others be intimidated by him.  But that wasn’t Johnny’s way.

Everyone who knew Johnny knows that his joy, and his laugh, was contagious.  He had this way of getting away with things that not another man in a million could get away with:  I kid you not, he would throw ice cubes at waitresses in restaurants, and they would laugh and throw them right back as if it were the most normal thing in the world.  When he walked into a room, any worries or negativity seemed to just melt away.  As a preacher, Johnny could talk to a congregation about a tragic circumstance and have them leave the church with a spirit of triumph.  As I got to know more and more folks around Midvale, I found that it wasn’t just at Happy Hollow Ranch that conversations tended to drift back to Johnny.  Everywhere he went, Johnny loved people from his soul, and they knew it.

As I sit here trying put into words what the loss of this man means, I am realizing that I cannot; his loss leaves a gap that a dozen cowboys could never fill.  But I will leave you with this.  Johnny used to say that Christ was the perfect cowboy.  I didn’t understand what he meant until he explained that Christ will return one day, riding on a white horse “a’whippin’ and a’spurrin'”.  To me, that is just a glimpse of what it looked like to see the world through Johnny’s eyes.  Johnny didn’t just ride horses.  He lived his life giving of himself to meet the needs of others, and he loved unconditionally.  His whole life pointed to the love of Christ in the most heroic way possible.  He was truly a legend.

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