Lake Norman Chamber helps man find his harbor
by Staff Writer
by Kathy Blake
In the back hallway at The Sign Shop in Denver, past the tiny front office and the art department, beyond the production area, there is a white door with a hand-made poster: Screen Reclaiming Department, R. Morse Jr.
Inside, Ronnie Morse, 37, son of shop owner Ron Sr., has set up his domain. Most days, Jimmy Buffett lyrics reverberate from the rectangular work area, where a post with directional arrows vigilantly points the way to “Pirate City.”
Hunched over a long table, Morse is weeding vinyl, removing the top cover to reveal a finished product. Overhead shelves are packed with customer orders. He is quick to offer a handshake and explanation of his work.
“He proofreads the stuff before it leaves here; he’s very detail-oriented,” the older Morse, also a Buffett fan said. “He picks up on stuff very rapidly, and he’s a wiz on the computer. He does the majority of jobs around here, with the screen printing.”
Ronnie Morse Jr., has Down syndrome. In Florida, he entered school a year after his twin sister, Jennifer, and graduated from Jupiter High School in Jupiter, Fla. in 1993. He worked at a Publix grocery, and McDonald’s and lived with roommates. He had a living coach to make sure he was eating well and his bills were paid.
There are more than 400,000 people with Down syndrome in the United States, according to the National Down syndrome Society website. Those affected have an increased risk for congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions. People with Down syndrome have three, rather than two, copies of the 21st chromosome, which changes their physical and developmental characteristics.
“We tried to keep it a normal childhood,” Ron said. “He’s very much aware he has Down syndrome. He knows he has a learning disability.”
In a way, Ronnie’s voyage has affected the life paths of his parents.
One job Ronnie held in Florida was at a screen printing shop, and Ron, a nuclear analyst at Florida Power & Light, would pick up his son and notice the fun they were having.
“They always had great music playing, and I was like, how come I work at a job I hate, and these guys are having fun?” Ron said.
Ron started doing screen work out of his garage, then moved to a place at actor Burt Reynolds’ ranch in Jupiter. His wife took a job in teaching, earned her masters and now serves as the director for Exceptional Children in Caldwell County.
Once settled in Denver, Ronnie embarked on a route of independence. He lives alone, but he doesn’t drive. (“We let him drive around Jupiter Farms but not on the roads here.”) Ron said Morse waits outside the Food Lion when Ronnie shops. He doesn’t have a living coach.
“I like living by myself. I get to grill out on my porch I get to watch TV,” Ronnie said. “I have a great life.”
Ronnie Morse heard about the Aktion Club of Lake Norman, an organization for adults with disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and mental retardation, after his sister did a photo shoot for an ARC club Ronnie joined. The chapter, which has 16 members whose average age is mid-20s, meets monthly at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce in Cornelius.
Ronnie recently was elected vice president.
“It’s a club for Down syndrome kids to go out and help people in the community,” Ronnie said. The club, which does service projects such as canned food and coat drives, recently completed work for Samaritan’s Feet, fixing up discarded shoes so the nonprofit can distribute them overseas.
Steve McIllwain, Aktion Club advisor for clubs from Lake Norman to south Mecklenburg County, facilitates the meetings.
“Ron brings new ideas to the Aktion Club, as far as what direction he wants them to go in getting out into the community,” McIllwain said. “He’s well-mannered, and as far as his work ethic, I haven’t heard anything bad about Ron. I have nothing but respect for him, and he gives respect. He cares. He really cares.”
Statistically, people with Down syndrome are living longer, about 60 years as opposed to 25 years in the early 1980s. Authorites estimate one in every 691 babies is born with the extra 21st chromosome, according the Down syndrome Society, but people with Down syndrome, though they experience cognitive delays, can live productively with the help of family and community support.
Ronnie Morse is proof.
“My sister has helped me over the years. She always does things for me,” he said. “Whenever we go places, she’s always there for me. And my parents, they’re the same way. They’ve always had a place in their heart for me, in good times and bad, and they’ve helped me to be very successful in life.”