Posted on: December 7, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

As an undercover police officer, Cornelius Morgan, left, once had to dress up as a woman to catch a purse snatcher.

By Renata Zych, COM 101 Student

Would you rather be a dedicated law officer or successful actor/model? A passionate gardener or vivid traveler? Or maybe you could combine it all into one exciting life like Cornelius Morgan.

At 85, ‘Corny,’ as friends call him, is very fortunate for the shape he’s in. For the shape that allows him to enjoy all the passions and hobbies that most people his age are not able to do. For the shape that makes him an extraordinary person.

No wonder – being a police officer for nearly half of his life shaped not only his body but also his mind. It wasn’t always easy because of the risks and challenges, but it was rewarding.

This is the story of a life lived to its fullest. Corny is an example to us all of how to be open to what comes, walking straight toward every opportunity to try something new, something different. Considering his age, you might expect to see a bitter old man, but with just one look at him you get to know an energetic gentleman in a perfect shape, dividing his time between work, passions, hobbies and family. Over his lifetime, he turned some of his passions into careers.

Corny began his police service with the Chicago Police Department in 1957 at the age of 22.

“I became a police officer because I listened to radio programs, ‘The FBI in Peace and War,’ ‘Gang Busters’ and stuff like that, and that had some influence on me,” he said.

He was going to church on Madison Street every morning, and we protected him from being bothered by all the women that wanted to touch his arm. He was a great man, always made sure that we ate.”

Cornelius Morgan, former bodyguard to Mayor Richard J. Daley

He liked the excitement and adrenaline that came with that job, especially when working undercover in a gambling unit and as a decoy in a special squad where he used to dress up as a woman because there was a pattern around the University of Chicago where women were getting hit in the kidney to make them drop their purses.

“It was probably the most embarrassing thing that I’ve ever done,” he said. “We would go out at night in some areas and guys would be stopping in cars and asking to get in. It was a lot of laughs.”

His police record consists of 11 department honorable mentions and 95 awards for exceptional work, not to mention that for quite few years he was Mayor Richard J. Daley’s bodyguard.

“He was going to church on Madison Street every morning, and we protected him from being bothered by all the women that wanted to touch his arm,” he said. “He was a great man, always made sure that we ate.”

After retiring from the Chicago Police, Corny worked eight years for the County Jail as assistant director of Internal Affairs and three years for the Secretary of State, a job from which he got fired. He found out that his boss was selling handicapped stickers to people who shouldn’t have them, “and I wouldn’t go along with it, so they fired me for insubordination and racial prejudice.”

After becoming film coordinator for the city of Chicago, Morgan became a model and actor.

While working for the Chicago Police Department he became a film coordinator for the city of Chicago. He handled all the movies and television when they came to Chicago and was offered parts. So he went to DePaul, took classes in acting and became a model and an actor.

Corny remembers his first job as a model for Shirley Hamilton Agency: “The agency called me up and the lady said that I have good legs, and being a policeman, I had no idea what she was talking about. I said, ‘No, but I got a nice butt.’ She was mad at me because I was being smart. Anyway, I got the job, and I was an injured runner in the emergency room at Resurrection Hospital.”

While mostly advertising medical supplies, he is a former commercial star of Hamm’s, Budweiser and Coors Light. And just recently Corny had an audition for the TV series “Chicago PD,” but he didn’t take it because he would have to memorize eleven lines and “I can do two lines,” he jokes.

In between his modeling and acting career Corny is an avid gardener–“my dad was a gardener and I just kept going”–and that going led to a passion for flowers, especially dahlias.

“They’re easy to plant but you have to dig them up and put away for winter,” he says. “That’s a lot of work.”

And that work was featured in many local newspapers. Corny is a member of two or three dahlia clubs and was a president for Palos Heights Garden Club for couple of years. He also had a garden at Lake Catherine Nature Preserve, but this year, because of the pandemic, “nobody did it.” His passion for flowers allows him to compete in dahlia shows like the Midwest Dahlia Show, where he won, proudly presenting the biggest flower, at 11 by 14 inches.

At 85, Morgan still loves to fish.

As if that were not enough, in his free time Corny goes fishing to his favorite spots in Canada or Wisconsin where he catches “big fish.” He remembers going fishing with his siblings when he was young, so sometimes his older brother, 89, keeps him company. Asked what he does with the fish, he grins and says, “I put it back in water; it’s a catch and release,” then he shows a picture of the biggest fish he caught and continues, “but that one started jumping around and it caught me in a finger and ripped it. I had to go to the hospital the next day – emergency. My hand was all swollen up.”

When he is not fishing, he is traveling. Of all the countries that he has visited, India and Brazil were the most interesting. His Guatemala trip was cancelled in March due to the pandemic, but he hopes to go next year. Meanwhile, he takes the opportunity to visit some of his 15 grandkids and 4 great-grandkids, with whom he has a very close relationship.

“I am grateful for my family and for my wife,” he says. “She was a very good person.”

Corny shared all his passions with his wife Elizabeth, and when she passed away from cancer four years ago, he just kept going even more to fill the emptiness in life. To get back on his feet, he decided to participate in Orland Township’s Senior Dating Game, where he, along with 15 other senior citizens, got an opportunity to socialize. He was one of the winning couples.

“This was a lot of fun,” he said.

Corny is an example of someone who knows how to live his life to the fullest. He worked hard all his life to be where he is today, and it paid off.

“My wife and I went to Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy…It was the money made on acting and modeling. I tell people I was living life like I was supposed to,” jokes Cornelius Morgan.

Between waiting for another audition and growing another dahlia, Corny goes for yoga. Once a week. To stay in shape.

“I’m just a someone who’s trying to make a day at a time.”

Photos courtesy of Cornelius Morgan.