INDEPENDENCE — Marilyn Morton has become well-known around town for starting the annual Independence Ghost Walk, but her years of work in the community extend beyond the supernatural — and beyond the border of Independence.
“Marilyn’s involvement in the Independence and Monmouth communities is legendary among all the members of the many volunteer and service groups she works with,” said longtime friend and fellow volunteer Nancy Lodge.
Morton’s list of causes includes the Independence Downtown Association, Friends of the Independence Library, Independence City Council, SMART Reading, and the Monmouth-Independence Community Foundation. She’s the former executive director of the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce, and is an active member and a board member for Ash Creek Arts Center.
“Our paths have crossed several ways,” said Emily McNulty, who owns MaMere’s Guest House in Monmouth.
Morton represents the Monmouth-Independence Network at the Monmouth Business Association meetings.
She advocates for both cities, McNulty said.
“She’s always advocating for small businesses, in particular,” McNulty said. “Her focus constantly is how do we come together? How do we support the community and who do we involve?”
Independence Heritage Museum assistant Amy Christensen met Morton in 2016.
“I was new to the community and she was kind of an instant standout,” Christensen said.
Morton is the council liaison to the museum board. Christensen also has volunteered for the ghost walk.
“My first impression of Marilyn is she’s so clearly someone who prioritizes supporting her community in many ways,” Christensen said. “She has a very intimate connection to its history and wants to share it.”
When Morton started the ghost walk 17 years ago, about 300 people showed up. Now there are about 1,500 attendees.
“Now she has a broader pool of volunteers who step in and help because it’s become such a big project,” Christensen said. “I’m glad she can sort of enjoy sitting at the helm.”
Christensen created a new exhibit for the Independence Heritage Museum this year.
“We wanted to do a fun nod to the ghost stories in the museum,” she said. “We decided to focus in on the ghost walk. We didn’t want to replicate what they’re doing but add to it.”
She created a paranormal investigator’s office — “M. Morton, Paranormal Investigator,” as a nod to Marilyn for all the work that she did, she said.
When Monmouth decided they wanted to do something similar, Morton offered to help.
“I really respected that, to her, it was about how can we help Monmouth do this too, because we really are sister cities and that was great,” Christensen said. “We found a way to make their event different than Independence’s.”
Independence Mayor John McArdle said Morton has been involved in a lot of successful projects with the city.
“She’s helped move some many things together,” he said. “Marilyn is committed to good things for our community. She’s had her fingers in all kinds of things.”
Those things include a “Moms-4-Reading” group she did at Independence Elementary School.
“She did that for 20-something years,” McArdle said.
That sometimes included recruiting community members to act in skits to help engage the kids in reading.
“I’ve been a ringmaster and Tarzan,” he laughed.
Morton led Moms-4-Reading for nearly 20 years, Lodge said.
“The program rewarded elementary students for their reading efforts while instilling healthy competition in the school climate,” Lodge said. “She finally gave up the program after her kids started college.”
Lodge first stared working with Morton during the five-year effort to build the Independence Public Library.
“The many roles she took on during that time was classic Marilyn — giving her time freely to help provide a better place for all citizens and not afraid to get ‘down and dirty’ to get a job done,” Lodge said. “We worked together to make all kinds of fundraising stuff during the campaign, including banners made from yards of felt material with felt letters. She could free-hand scissor-cut letters and designs out of felt like a crazy Edward Scissorhands!”
These days, Morton efforts include a monthly newsletter of activities she puts together for Minet — Two Cities, One Community, or 2C 1C.
“What I really love about Marilyn, is she’s really great at trying to bridge the two communities of Monmouth and Independence,” McNulty said.