Joseph Morrow began considering a political career while in an eighth grade civics class in his hometown of Huntington, Indiana. The idea of being elected to the U.S. Congress continued to appeal to him as he served in the United States Air Force, earned his business degree at Indiana University and while attending the IU School of Law in the late 1950’s.
“My plans was to move to a small county seat, practice law and run for Congress,” the 79-year old Morrow recalls.
“Then I began realizing that that wasn’t the way to conduct a lifestyle. To give back to the community, you have to be successful in some other endeavor.”
And he has been successful in two professions—the law and banking. Following his law school graduation in 1958, Morrow moved to Northwest Indiana and became law clerk to a judge in the Northern District Court of Indiana. In late 1959, he established his own law practice in Hammond.
“We did general counsel work for NIPSCO and the South Shore Railroad, basically utility and regulatory law,” he says.
Twenty years later, Morrow changed careers when he became chairman of the board of three sister banks –Mercantile National Bank of Indiana, First National Bank of Illinois and Home State Bank of Crystal Lake, Ill. He also was President of Lake Commercial Group.
Morrow says he found great satisfaction in his 25-year banking career. “It was tremendously more satisfying than the practice of law,” he says. “It was not so adversarial or confrontational. I spent my days helping customers.”
Joe and Sandy Morrow have been married for 53 years and have two children, Christopher Morrow and Gale Morrow Crabtree, both of Dyer, and four grandchildren. Christopher continues to lead the First National Bank of Illinois and Home State Bank. Like their parents, both Christopher and Gale are active in a phlethora of community causes.
An established philosophy of personal giving has guided Morrow and his family to share their success with the community.
“I always thought I had a duty to do what I could to make Northwest Indiana a better community,” he says. “Philanthropy needs to be focused on the communities where our family’s money is made.”
That’s exactly the life example he has set and continues to follow, according to John Cain, executive director of South Shore Arts, who nominated Morrow for the Business and Industry Hall of Fame.
“As a pillar of business leadership in Northwest Indiana and beyond, Mr. Morrow distinguished himself as a steadfast supporter of the community through his personal involvement with and generous contributions to the non-profit sector,” Cain says. “This philosophy of personal giving is commendable and vital to our entire region.”
The fund-raising efforts spearheaded by the entire Morrow family “effectively saved the Northwest Indiana Symphony from extinction,” Cain says. “The Morrows have set a standard for arts support from within the private sector that is unprecedented.”
Morrow says his affiliation with Mercantile Bank was a springboard for his fund-raising efforts for various organizations, including the Hammond Area YMCA, Community Hospital, United Way, South Shore Arts and Campagna Academy.
His support for the Calumet Council Boys Scouts of America comes from memories of his own scouting days. In 2007, Joe and Sandy Morrow were honored with a Distinguished Citizen Award by the Calumet Council BSA.
As chairman of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, he established the Joseph T. Morrow Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded annually to a graduating high school senior from East Chicago, Gary or Hammond who plans to attend Indiana University Bloomington or Indiana University Northwest with a career interest in law or banking.
Although retired now to Naples, Florida, Morrow remains active on the board of First National Bank of Illinois and Home State Bank, and the bank’s various committees. He is also chairman emeritus at First National Bank. The family sold Mercantile National Bank to Harris Bank in 2005.
In addition to his family, a great source of pride for Joseph Morrow is his alma mater, Indiana University, where he remains actively involved.
“I’m on the chancellor’s council and received the Chancellor’s Medal.” he says. “I’m also on the Indiana University Foundation board of directors and the IU Varsity Club.”
Morrow says his deep connection to Northwest Indiana remains strong through the causes he supports and the many friends he’s made in the community.
“Each day is a new adventure,” he says.
His induction into the Business and Industry Hall of Fame is a great honor, Morrow says.
“I join a really stellar group of people who have won this award.”