Dr. Holly Morris

Holly had just graduated with a degree in the Classics from Kent State (in June 1974), when one of her Classics professors, Jim Carpenter, received grants which allowed him to take several students to Cyprus for an archeological dig at the site of an ancient village. It was the perfect opportunity to gain valuable research training before starting graduate school. She didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. What she never could have expected was for their whole group to become refugees who had to be evacuated by the British Royal Air Force to London during a coup of Cyprus (in July 1974) and subsequent invasion by Turkey. As you may expect, the experience was life changing.

The Kent State dig crew in Cyprus in 1976 or 1977. Holly Morris is in the middle, wearing a white shirt. Jim Carpenter, professor in the Classics, the director of the dig is the tall guy in the back (middle). Dr. John and Betty Parks are on the far left.

Recently, Holly decided to donate a scholarship to support Kent State students who study abroad. Her advice for students thinking about studying abroad: “Anybody who can, should,” Morris said. “I doubt that anyone would really regret it and it can really rock your world. It can be one of those milestone moments.”

[Below is Jim Maxwell’s interview with Holly Morris]:

Q: Why did you major in the Classics?

I bounced around my first two years trying to find something and ended up an English major. Back then, English majors at Kent State were required to take Greek Mythology. I took that with Mrs. Betty Parks, who taught in the Classics Department. The class was just so exciting and so compelling. I just got really interested in Ancient Greece and that pulled me into the Classics Department as a major as a junior. I did all of my major coursework in 2 years. I took Latin and Greek at the same time.

Q: Tell me about Dr. John and Betty Parks

He was the chairperson and she was an instructor. She was a very energizing teacher and was passionate about the Classics and really knew how to connect the dots of the contemporary world (1970s) and bring it alive. She really knew her stuff. I've establish two scholarships in my trust in their names, including one for travel abroad. 

Q: Why did you go to Cyprus?

This was really my first time excavating, and it was an unbelievable opportunity to be able to do this in my field. To be able to have my first field experience before even entering graduate school (at University of Minnesota) was a real advantage that Kent State gave me. For me it was kind of the first step in specifically training in something because we were literally on the ground, doing the digging, learning how to catalog, doing the dirty work, which is what students always end up doing. But, being with a team of people who were really experienced, it was a perfect opportunity for me.

Q: What were accommodations like?

That first year the director rented a couple houses in a small village about five miles from where the excavation was. Of course, all the girls were in one and all the boys were in another, but they were really close together, so everybody congregated in one. It was really fun because we had a cook, somebody who did our laundry and made the beds and all that kind of stuff. Especially at that time, it was affordable for the dig to just have all of that done so that we could keep working. So, the people we got to meet were in the village, so we just made friends and they’d invite you over for a meal or you’d get to meet and know their kids. It was just like living in a little village. On the weekends we’d have off and that’s when you go out and play.

Newspaper clip: Kent State student Michael Campbell and Lucy McLaurin, of the University of Sydney, bring up a vase from one of the cemetery tombs. (clip provided by Holly Morris)

Q: Tell me about the dig.

We were looking at ancient pottery from the 4,000-year-old Middle Bronze Age, which is unique because it was not like a palace or from a big city. It was really a farmstead and then next to it, inexplicably was a cemetery. The other part of it was a habitation site. The Middle Bronze Age was a period where you did see people venturing out and settling alone. Whereas in other periods of Greek history everybody stayed in the village and then walked out to their farm which could have been up to around five miles away. So, one of the things archaeologists like to do is study how things change over time. In the Middle Bronze Age period you started seeing these farmsteads come up out of nowhere. Why was that? It’s one of the things you are trying to answer. The other thing that is different about it is that instead of getting beautiful whole pots and gold jewelry and stuff like that, you are getting everyday implements, so you’re getting little pieces of bronze that might have been a knife. You’re getting the cooking pots and other implements that were used every day. You are getting storage that was used every day. You’re looking at the architecture which is different from a palace which is mostly what we were digging before the 70s.

Newspaper clip: An uncovered skull, a ritual vase, and the foundation of a home in the front sector of the village. (Clip provided by Holly Morris)

So, you are getting the picture of everyday life. What I ended up doing in my years there was studying the stone tools. There were thousands and thousands of little tiny pieces of stone that you could tell had been worked, but they were hard to discern, what they were used for, usually cutting grass or skinning and cleaning animals. So, I did my master’s thesis on that chipped stone collection from the site.

I also did excavations on the mainland of Greece for several seasons. There, I did site surveys, an archaeological technique where you systematically walk along a transit looking for things that tell you what’s underneath.

Q: Was that something you continued to do in grad school?

Especially back then, once you are over there in the Aegean region, there are often excavations going on all summer, so if you are already over there and you have some experience you can join another one after you are done with one. So, I stayed with the Kent State excavation for five years. While I was in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, I continued to work with Kent State and Jim Carpenter on their excavation.

Q: Had you had much experience going abroad?

I had traveled as a tourist in a few countries in Europe before this. I was fortunate that in high school our church group went to Europe for several weeks.

Q: What was it like in Cyprus upon arrival?

Like one of those pictures from a calendar you hang on the wall, it’s one of those traditional beautiful, blue sea and sky places, with white rocks and terra cotta roofs and all of those stereotypical things. It’s just stunningly beautiful and the people were wonderful. In some ways, being in Cyprus, it’s kind of like being in Greece, but because the British colonized there everyone spoke English, which was rare in other countries in Europe. So, it was easy to get around and get to know the local people and I absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, it got cut a little short.

Q: How did things unfold?

You come in a week before digging and get organized. So, we had been there maybe five or six days and had just begun digging. I think we were on day two or three of the actual excavation. We left the excavation around 2 to go have lunch. That day we went to a little restaurant, just a shack with little wooden tables. We sat down and we could hear this military music playing on the radio rather than what we usually hear, which were Greek dancing songs. So, we thought it was really weird and so finally someone asked, and they said, “oh there was a coup”!

The Archbishop (Makarios), who was also the president of Cyprus was deposed and the military took over the government. So, when we found that out the people in charge decided we probably shouldn’t go back to the dig and we should go back to our houses and hunker down, turn on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), and see what’s going to happen. The next morning the Turks invaded. So, the whole issue in Cyprus was that the conflict was about the fact that 80 percent of the island’s population is of Greek origin and the other 20 percent was of Turkish origin, but they didn’t really have representation in the government. The Turkish people felt like they weren’t getting a good deal, but more importantly, Turkey saw this as an opportunity, because of the coup, to try to overtake the island, and in fact they did. They still hold the northern half of the island territory after all these years. So, what we experienced was the coup and then Turkey’s invasion. They were invading on the north side and we were on the south side, but we could see them in the air, and it was a state of emergency.

There was a curfew and we were just stuck in this village with almost nothing there except the other people who lived there. We were just stuck there and listening to the BBC. It took about a week for Britain's Royal Air Force to organize our evacuation to London. They had to find us and get us to the UN peace-keeping camps and then eventually fly us out. Between the time of the coup and us getting out took probably about two to three weeks. So, we were given refugee status and they put you up in a really nice hotel. And, then it was a matter of working with the airlines to reschedule our flights back home, which took some time. So, we had a good six or seven days in London for free. Of course, we did all kinds of fun stuff. We went to the Victorian Albert Museum to look at all the classical statues and went out to dinner, and stuff like that. When you are that age, and never been in London before, it was amazing.

Q: What was your level of fear when all of this was going on in Cyprus?

There were 14 students and I think a lot of us were not overly concerned with losing our lives, but it was pretty anxiety-producing for some of the people. There were a few times when I thought we might get hurt. One was when we were being evacuated from our homes and you get stopped every ten miles or so as they were checking our credentials, and somebody would point a gun. Young kids that were turkey soldiers with guns would point their guns at people’s heads. That was a little nerve wracking! And one time I did hear napalm dropping. That was horrible. And, you could feel the heat coming off it and it was a couple of miles away. So, that was pretty scary. We had dug trenches, because we had all of our gear for digging, just in case we needed them. When that napalm dropped, we did drop into our fox holes.

The way I would talk about it as an educational experience was that it simulated for me what it would be like to be in a war. I wouldn’t say that I know what it was like to be in a war, but I know what it is like to jump in a fox hole when you don’t know what was going to happen next. The Vietnam War was just about ending then and it just gave me a huge new appreciation for how horrible war is and I have had that with me my whole life. So, from an educational experience, it is irreplaceable, even though it was awful.

Q: Were there jets flying overhead?

Yes, and paratroopers jumping out. So, we’re waiting and waiting for our president at the time and he wasn’t saying anything. I think the U.S. was pro-Turkey at that time. I didn’t feel that they were paying attention to the fact that there were Americans there trying to get out. There was a little bit of a feeling of abandonment, but only for a few days and then the Royal Air Force flew us out.

Q: When was your first opportunity to communicate with your family?

There were about ten days where my family didn’t know where I was or where any of us were and it wasn’t until we got to London that I could call. That was a pretty amazing call. “Hi mom!” She was pretty worried mostly because she wasn’t given any information at all about what was happening. So, that might have been the hardest part of the ordeal. Not for me, or the people I was with, but for our families. I know that Kent State was frantically trying to do what they could to help, give information to our families, and see what they could do to expedite things.

Q: What was the impact on your life?

Being exposed to other cultures and getting a glimpse of how big the world is and how different various parts of the world are, but in the end, you know we’re all the same. Just seeing in person, up close what conflict is, what war is, and the horror it is for everyone, not just the ones fighting, but the families and everyone else. Those are all really important life lessons and they impacted how I feel about war and politics.

Being able to speak a foreign language, having friends that speak a different language, it just gives you a different view of the world that is really valuable. I am a huge believer in people taking advantage of these opportunities. You have to go abroad. 

To be in a village where people were killing their chickens and making dinner and inviting me over and I got to see the chicken being killed. Baking bread. Boiling sheets in water to make sure that they were clean. And, how new it was to have a television. So, all of those things. It’s hard to put in words how going through those experiences change you, but it’s definitely real and it sticks with me.

Q: What did you do after Kent State?

I went to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota, in the Department of Classics. I got my masters there. I later got my Ph.D. in Ancient Studies, which was an interdisciplinary program, kind of like a double major. I studied economics and prehistoric Greece and Greek society. I was looking at the role of the economy in the evolving state of the Myceneans, who were the people living in Greece before the Greeks lived there. Then, while I was going to graduate school, I started working at Honeywell. It’s very different going from these experiences to working in a corporate office environment, but the skills you learn can be applied, but I really enjoy that too. In addition to going to school, I got into computing, using computers for my research, but also managing projects and doing programming. So, when I finished school, I already had a pretty good job at Honeywell and decided that it would be my career path. At that point I started taking a variety of management jobs in IT and finished my full-time career here in Minneapolis at a company called Thrivant. And, I was at American Express, in IT, for many years before that. Now I’m semi-retired and I’m involved in a lot of corporate boards and volunteer board work.   

At some point when I realized I was not going to do archaeology as a profession, I started looking and found an old ruined house on the Island of Crete and I bought it, over thirty years ago, and I’ve been restoring it. Now it’s quite livable, but it still is very rustic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go this year, the first time in many years that I couldn’t go (due to the pandemic).

Q: How did your experiences at Kent State help you along the way?

Like most people who did liberal arts early on, it is such a broad-based education and it makes people nervous that you are not going to be able to find a job. I think in today’s world that is maybe truer than it was when I was going through. But it also gives you a lot of other things. Probably the best examples are communication, especially writing. When you are in liberal arts, where there is a lot of history and languages, there is really a demand to learn how to write and write well. Also, I think critical thinking and being able to discern the nuances of a problem or an issue and tease out what is really important. Living in ambiguity, which most of the world is, you learn that a lot in the liberal arts, especially in Latin and Greek where you are reading a foreign language that doesn’t exist anymore. Things can not make any sense because you don’t have the context and your job as a scholar is to push through that ambiguity and get some clarity. So, that’s always been something I’m pretty good at. Now that I’m on a board of directors, I think one of the things they look to me to do is help them when there are four or five different opinions and we have to figure out how to move forward and how to merge all of the best ideas and come out with a way forward. That, I think, comes from my liberal arts background and all the critical thinking skills I’ve developed along the way.

It’s a very rich education. Who would think this girl from Warren, Ohio would get such a rich education at Kent, and that’s why it’s so important to me. I’ve got it in my trust. I really value it.

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