By Alexander Germanis
The thought of home conjures warm thoughts for most of us. Our minds drift to simpler times—memories of gathering around the dinner table with family, playing in the parks and streets with old friends, or meeting that special someone and falling in love.
Over the decades, however, countless writers have expressed the belief that the home of our memories is just that: merely a memory—a place to which one can never truly return.
But some would argue with that sentiment. At Brandon Wood Retirement Center in Morton, there are those who have proven you can, indeed, go home again.
Way Back When
Fewer and fewer people alive can remember the 1950s. America was only just starting to get connected by the interstate highway and towns like Morton were looking forward to a time of unprecedented potential growth.
Certain citizens recognized that potential and helped become a significant part of it. Phil Hauter, uncle of Brandon Wood resident Ed Hauter, was at the forefront of this growth. “Uncle Phil was a real entrepreneur,” Ed states. “He worked at Interlocking Fence Company, but he did a lot of other things: he was the mayor of Morton in the 1930s, had a miniature golf course, built the Morton Theater, had a theater in Minier, and owned the Crest Theater in Peoria.”
In the 50s, Uncle Phil figured his next logical step was in lodging, so he built the Town House Motel on Jefferson. “He built it there because, at the time, he was assured by the state and federal officials that I-74 would have an exit on Jefferson. It turned out that didn’t happen,” Ed chuckles.
Not to be outdone by the “promises” of government officials, Uncle Phil took other initiatives. He opened a separate motel near the actual interstate, as well as a restaurant called The Pepper Mill. As for The Town House, Uncle Phil thought of multiple ways to keep it relevant. “He contacted all the trucking industries, and they would have their truckers come to the Town House,” Ed recalls. “He rented the rooms to them for $5.50 a night and he’d make popcorn for the guys.”
Eventually, Uncle Phil added a restaurant called the Red Bud and even attached a mini-mall to the Town House. “My wife Shirley had three little gift shops there: a little Christmas shop, a bell shop, and a music box shop called Cranberry Corner,” Ed remembers. “Witzig’s Clothing had a shop, Novel Jewelry had a shop, Johnson Floral had a shop. It was a nice little area for women, especially, to come.”
“We had a really, really fantastic business for five years,” Shirley chimes in. “Ed’s uncle would sit outside of our Christmas shop and shake his head to think that anyone would buy a Christmas ornament in the middle of July in Morton, Illinois. But we had very good business.”
Caterpillar also took advantage of the Town House. Being a global company, its traveling executives would hold meetings on the second floor, eat at the Red Bud, and shop at the mall. Unfortunately, Caterpillar also spelled the downfall of the Town House years later.
“Caterpillar had a major strike in the 80s. It was almost a year long strike,” Ed says, “and all the businesses went kapooie.”
Because of the failing economy in the area, the Hauters could no longer maintain the properties. Eventually purchased by a group of investors in Chicago, the Town House Motel and its appendaged buildings were renovated, expanded, and turned into what is now Brandon Wood Retirement Center.
According to Ed and Shirley, that change has been an improvement. “Where the parking lot was between the two motel sections has since been made into a courtyard with trees and shrubs,” Ed explains. “Many of the motel rooms have been made into apartments and now have patios that back up to the courtyard. Residents can sit out in that courtyard with trees, bushes, and flowers. What used to be the little shops in the mall are now apartments. The Red Bud Restaurant was renovated and added onto and now it’s the dining room. The owners of this place have done a beautiful job.”
Indeed, the owners “have not spared any horses,” as Ed says.
For entertainment, he, Shirley, and their friends enjoy Bingo games, exercise, card games, and weekly entertainment in one of the two large community rooms. When retiring to their apartment, Ed and Shirley can spread out in their two-bedroom, two-bath home, and enjoy their view of the trees, grass, and wildlife outside their windows.
The food is first-rate as well, prepared by a former chef from the famous Jumer’s in Peoria. “We take two meals a day,” Shirley says. “It’s just as good as the Red Bud was. It’s perfect for us. My eyesight is not good anymore, so I can no longer cook. I feel blessed that Ed and I get to live here. We would highly recommend Brandon Wood. It’s a wonderful place with a very friendly staff.”
“We’re very comfortable here and we’re very comfortable with the price,” Ed adds. “You’d rather be in your own home, of course; but if you can’t be—which we couldn’t anymore—this is ideal.”
While it is true Brandon Wood is not the Town House Motel or its shopping mall where the Hauters created so many fond memories, it has never ceased feeling like home to the Hauters.
“That’s the way I feel here,” Shirley confirms. “Ed had so much to do with this place with his uncle and I did too with having a shop here. When our kids moved our furniture in, I looked around and thought: This is home.”
From Past to Present
The Hauters are familiar with Morton in a way few people can understand. Since Ed’s grandmother was born in 1868 to the town blacksmith, the Hauter family has always called Morton home. “They were all born in Morton—the whole family,” Ed declares. “We’ve had generations here and we still do. My kids are living here now, and my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. We’ve got about 30–40 Hauters living here yet.”
The Hauters once helped build Morton and now continue to watch over it. Last November, Ed and Shirley’s son, William, was elected to the state assembly. He now represents Morton’s district.
And as for the Hauters who have passed on, Ed believes his Uncle Phil would be very thrilled with how his little slice of Morton has fared over all that time. Although his Town House Motel, Red Bud Restaurant, and mini-mall have all been repurposed, Uncle Phil would certainly be happy with how they’re being used and with how well they’re being used.
The More Things Change…
Before the days of Brandon Wood and even the Town House Motel, Ed and Shirley had a long history in Morton. His family had Interlocking Fence Company (now called Morton Buildings) and Meyer Manufacturing Company. Shirley’s family operated Witzig’s Clothing. For nearly a hundred years, they have seen their hometown change in ways they could never have imagined.
“When my wife and I were growing up, the population in Morton was 2,000 to 2,500 here. You knew everybody,” Ed recounts. “Now, there are 17,000 people and we hardly know anybody, except the Witzigs and their family.”
Unfortunately, no one can stop time from ticking by or the world from changing around us. Certain things are simply beyond our control.
But despite how much the town has grown, how its landscape might have evolved, or how many place names have changed, there is still a place where the past matters. There is Brandon Wood—a place you can still call home.
Brandon Wood Retirement Center is located at 730 West Jefferson in Morton, Illinois. If you are interested in touring our home to see if it’s right for you, please give us a call at (309) 263-7341. Or, to learn more about us please visit us on the web at www.brandonwoodretirementcommunity.com.