A major challenge for cooperatives serving any sector of rural America is the perpetuation of formidable leadership, both governance and managerial. The viability of cooperatives is a mirror image of those they are designed to serve and are deeply affected by the fundamentals of changing demographics, low economic return on investment, changing business structures, and lifestyle desires. To sustain this economic and social environment, cooperatives must apply resources toward maintaining a leadership development system that stimulates ongoing participation and hones the intellectual capacity of the willing.
The life and work of Ralph K. Morris exemplified the visionary, dedicated, practical leadership needed by cooperative enterprise in the future. The Ralph K. Morris Cooperative Leadership Fund has been established by the Ralph K. Morris Foundation to support the development of future cooperative leaders.
The Ralph K. Morris Foundation is a nonprofit corporation which provides development opportunities for emerging leaders expressing interest in applying and advancing the principles of cooperation, and in promoting farmland preservation, land stewardship and sustainability.
Board of Directors
William J. Nelson
Chairman of the Board
Owner, William J. Nelson, LLC and
Retired President, CHS Foundation
Assistant Deputy Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Regional Vice President, CoBank, ACB
Government Relations Specialist, Lathrop GPM
Education Director, Wisconsin Farmers Union
David Swanson, Esq.
Attorney, Dorsey & Whitney LLP
Christopher Morris, Esq.
Attorney, Bassford Remele
Development Manager, Central US National Cooperative Grocers
Vice President Member Relations, GENEX
Author, Journalist and Conservation Communicator
Retired Executive Director, Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
Cooperative Development Consultant
Managing Partner, Rosenholm Dairy
Nutrition Sustainability Strategies
Paula Faulkner, Ph.D.
Professor of Agricultural Education, North Carolina A&T State University
Secretary / Business Manager
Owner, Ellis International, LLC
Foundation Attorney, Dorsey & Whitney, LLP
Allodium Investment Consultants
Foundation Investment Counsel
Who was Ralph K. Morris?
Ralph Morris was born and raised on a dairy farm outside of Dassel, Minnesota and continued to operate the family farm until his death on February 15, 2000. His roots and heart were in rural Minnesota and they ingrained in him the values that were the defining force in his life. Ralph had an unending passion for farmer-owned entities and rural development.
Following graduation from Dassel High School, Ralph ventured east to attend Harvard University. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1962 with a history degree and received a law degree from Stanford University in 1966. In 1962, Ralph married his high school sweetheart, Jarolynn (who was also raised on a farm outside Dassel), and together they raised three children — Christopher, Melissa and Michael.
Ralph began his legal career of representing farmers and cooperatives at Doherty, Rumble & Butler in St. Paul where he practiced law for 33 years. In the fall of 1998, he moved his practice to Dorsey & Whitney where he was Chairman of the Agricultural and Cooperatives Law practice group. Ralph devoted his legal career to providing legal services to agricultural and rural electric cooperatives throughout the United States. A nationally and internationally respected lawyer in the field, he wrote and lectured frequently on cooperative law and provided leadership and mentoring to his colleagues in this area. His passion for helping farmers and cooperatives was very evident in his determination, spirit and the creative ways in which he addressed legal issues. Ralph had an innate ability to ‘see the big picture’ and to provide the practical counsel necessary to get the project completed — be it a reverse triangular merger, the formation of a common marketing agency, or the many issues that cooperatives face. Ralph had a significant impact on management, staff and Boards of Directors of various organizations that he counseled. Ralph also spent countless hours with legislative committees drafting laws affecting cooperatives.
Ralph received many national awards for his legal work on behalf of cooperatives and farmers, including the ‘Minn-Dak Hall of Fame’ award and being named a ‘National Honored Cooperator’ by the National Cooperative Business Association. In April of 2002, the late Ralph K. Morris was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.
He served on the Board of Directors of American Farmland Trust, a Washington-based organization devoted to preserving farmland and reducing urban sprawl. He also served as Chairman of the Land Projects Committee for this organization.
Ralph was an active member of the Legal, Tax & Accounting Committee of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives for many years. He was also a member of the National Cooperative Business Association, the National Society of Accountants for Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
While Ralph’s many successes at the negotiating table and in the Board room are legendary, he was first and foremost a quality person whose career and approach to business and the practice of law stressed loyalty, fairness, good humor and cooperation. He will be sorely missed, but we hope to keep his spirit alive through the activities of the Ralph K. Morris Foundation.
Ralph Morris dedicated his life to assisting farmers and cooperatives in their business ventures. His leadership, unusual vision, creativity, determination and unending passion for his work made a huge impact on his clients, business associates, colleagues, family and friends. The Foundation not only honors Ralph for his many outstanding contributions to farmers and cooperative associations, but perpetuates Ralph’s vision by investing its monies in the people of rural America.