Lilla B. Morgan, Advocate for the Arts
By Nik Olsen
Literature, dance, and classical music surrounded Lilla B. Morgan at an early age, developing in her a deep appreciation for the arts that she brought with her to Fort Collins when her husband, William E. Morgan, was in 1949 named the eighth president of Colorado A&M.
In the following decades, she would become a matriarch of the community who championed the fine arts, symphonies, and theater performances in a town better known then for livestock and farming. Today, her legacy lives on through an endowment fund in her honor that supports the advancement of the arts and culture at Colorado State University.
Lilla Morgan grew up in Bryan, Texas, outside of College Station. Her father died when she was 3 years old and her mother joined the workforce, says her daughter, Dorcas Morgan Murray. While her mother was at work, Lilla spent the days with her grandmother, Lilla Graham McInnis. Her grandmother was a true Southern Lady of the town with deep knowledge of the classics, and she impressed upon her young granddaughter the beauty of classic arts.
The only place to escape the Texas heat in Bryan was the Carnegie Library, and it was a favorite place of young Lilla, who graduated from Southern Methodist University with a degree in English literature.
“The closest thing Bryan had to the arts was that Carnegie Library,” Dorcas says. “It was tiny — it did have little white columns, though.”
The little library helped sparked a lifelong love. Throughout her life, Lilla read voraciously, with the classics always being among her favorites. Coupled with President Morgan’s belief that the Land-Grant Act required CSU to provide a liberal — and “liberating” — arts education to the masses, the two became a founding cultural force in Fort Collins. The two, first met on a blind date in 1929, were married on New Year’s Eve in 1933. President Morgan always referred to Lilla as his co-president, and the two oversaw CSU for 20 years.
“She wanted Colorado State — and Fort Collins, too — to be refined, not just the ‘cow college,'” Dorcas says.
The Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment provides funding to support projects in the fields of art, music, humanities, literature, and the performing arts; examples of uses include: visiting/guest lecturer or artist, purchase of art/rare book/landscaping, exhibit, performance, scholarship/award, or any use that would enhance the cultural awareness of the Colorado State University community. To donate to the fund, please contact University Advancement at (970) 491-2841.
Lilla founded the original Fort Collins book club and led the charge to raise funds for the Lincoln Center. One of the most important funds for the arts at Colorado State, the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, provides resources to enhance the cultural development and environment for the arts at Colorado State.
Among the many works her mother loved, it was “My Heart at thy Sweet Voice” — a piece from the opera “Samson and Delilah” — that topped all, Dorcas says. Lilla favored many pieces, but that is the one that she loved best. And she was never afraid to share her opinions — on art or anything else.
“She was, in her way, a liberated lady,” Dorcas says. “She had opinions and she expressed them.”
Lilla would have been quite proud of the modern day arts facilities in Fort Collins, including CSU’s University Center for the Arts and the newly remodeled Lincoln Center, as well as the performances they attract, her daughter says.
“She wouldn’t have understood some of the modern works, but she would be pleased to see them come,” Dorcas says.