THOMASBORO — If Robert Morfey had a nickname, it could have been "Mr. Thomasboro."
Actively involved in the Champaign County community, he was instrumental in Thomasboro fire protection, village government and business for most of his 77 years until his death from cancer March 2.
White collar, blue collar, leader and follower, Mr. Morfey was all of those things.
The Thomasboro Village Board recently agreed to dedicate the Thomasboro Fire Museum to Mr. Morfey, who was instrumental in getting it developed. The museum, which hasn't opened, was Mr. Morfey's brainchild and is close to being finished.
Firefighting runs in the Morfey blood. Mr. Morfey was actively involved with the Thomasboro Fire Protection District for 40 years, serving as its fire chief for 21 of those years and as a firefighter the rest of the time.
All four of his sons are or have been firefighters, at least two of them having served professionally, according to current Thomasboro Fire Chief Paul Cundiff.
"He was a great man," Cundiff said, but his greatness came through in action more than words, because Mr. Morfey wasn't a boisterous individual.
"He was quiet, but very well-respected," Cundiff said.
Added Mr. Morfey's son Bruce, "He was quiet and didn't yell at anybody too much."
Bruce Morfey pointed that only four men have held the role of fire chief in the fire protection district's history, and Mr. Morfey was its second chief.
Said Cundiff: "He was a very good chief. He was a good leader, and he had a good group of men who followed him."
Mr. Morfey joined the fire protection district in 1957 when it was formed. Before that time, it was a village department.
He was with the district during three additions to the former fire station, and the district purchased at least three vehicles when Mr. Morfey was chief, according to Cundiff.
At Mr. Morfey's funeral visitation, his youngest son, Bill, a member of the Urbana Fire Department, and others formed an honor guard and participated in a walk-through, Cundiff said. Nearly 90 firefighters from several area departments, including Danville, where his second-oldest son, Brian, retired from, participated.
The funeral service included a bell-ringing ceremony and a procession to Rantoul, where Mr. Morfey was buried at Maplewood Cemetery.
Jay Arnold, current assistant fire chief whose dad, Festus, was assistant chief under Mr. Morfey, called Mr. Morfey "a fair guy, and he always thought of the firemen's safety first.
"He was a very good chief, and he was able to control the money that was advanced for education and the support system for the department."
Arnold noted that all firemen advanced to firefighter II level under Mr. Morfey's watch, and he started a cadet program in 1975. Arnold and four other teens began their service in the program, which allowed them to start with the department at age 16 rather than 21.
"He made sure we had good equipment and fire protection gear," Arnold said, adding that Mr. Morfey was the last chief at the district's old station at 503 N. Phillips St., right across the street from Mr. Morfey's house.
But firefighting wasn't Mr. Morfey's only involvement in Thomasboro. He was village treasurer for 45 years, owned and operated Thomasboro Hardware for many years and worked for the village under Arnold, the public works superintendent.
Bruce Morfey said his father's first job while a high school student was at Thomasboro Hardware, which at that time was owned by Thomasboro Grain Co.
"We found a picture of him working at the store, and Mom said he was still in high school," Bruce Morfey said.
Mr. Morfey would later buy the store from the grain company and run it for many years.
The hardware store was more than a store, according to Arnold. It was a place to loaf and to catch up on the latest news, and if you wanted something done by the village, it was the place to go because Mr. Morfey was there.
"If you wanted anything done in Thomasboro you'd go to the hardware store," Arnold said, "and Bob would call the right person."
Bruce Morfey said he worked with his father at the store for at least 10 years.
Mr. Morfey had to close the store, however, when business declined.
So in the mornings he would work as treasurer and in the afternoons worked with Arnold for the village.
"He was a great guy," Bruce Morfey said. "A lot of people at the funeral said when they came to town he was the first person they met because they had to sign up for their water bill with him."
Arnold said Mr. Morfey was diagnosed with cancer about nine years ago — a disease that finally took his life.
Mr. Morfey has a new home now, but chances are there's a fireman's hat there and the coffee is brewing for anyone who wants to come in and loaf and talk. Occasionally, the talk might turn to Thomasboro, the place where Mr. Morfey was so active.