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On Island Profile: Sam Morch

April 17, 2005 – Although his 80th birthday is fast approaching on May 1, St. John resident Sam Morch hoofs it down Centerline Road from his home in Bethany to the Cruz Bay ferry dock. He then hops the 7 a.m. ferry to Red Hook to get the dollar safari to Roy L. Schneider Hospital, where he spends the better part of the day evaluating the quality of Medicare-paid healthcare for the V.I. Medical Institute.
Morch's schedule would leave folks a lot younger gasping for relief, but Morch keeps on trucking.
"I need to. Otherwise I would collapse," he said, laughing as he heads off to catch the ferry.
Alas, Morch is moving to Silver Spring, Md., on August 2 to look after his wife of 56 years, Winifred, and their grandchildren.
The two were childhood sweethearts who met while they were students at Charlotte Amalie High School. They have four children – Toni, Garey, Cathy and Gam – four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Morch was born in New York City of parents from the Virgin Islands. His mother was the St. John-born Rose Thomas and his father, Eric Olaf Morch, was from St. Thomas.
He and his mother moved to St. John when he was 10, and Morch went to the elementary school at Bethany before attending Charlotte Amalie High School. He left school in 1944 to join the U.S. Army.
"I was the fifth Virgin Islander to be inducted and the first from St. John," he said, proudly noting the date was June 13, 1944. He served in the 872nd Port Company. After returning home at the end of the war he went back to Charlotte Amalie High School, graduating in 1947.
Morch said that thanks to the G.I. Bill, he was able to attend New York University. He graduated in 1952 with a bachelor's degree in health education and went on to Columbia University to get a master's degree in public health education in 1954.
In the ensuing years, he worked for the New York City Health Department and the U.S. Public Health Service, a post that sent him from 1958 to 1964 to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, as a health education adviser.
He returned to the states to a job as a health planning consultant for the Health and Welfare Council in the Washington, D.C., area, then worked as deputy chief of comprehensive health planning for the U.S. Health, Education and Welfare Department.
"But I wanted to come home to take care of my mother," he said, continuing his life story as he waited to board the ferry to St. Thomas.
He also said that he had a beautiful boyhood on St. John and wanted to give something back. Indeed, Morch has lots of tales to tell from his youth. He remembers learning to milk cows and fish when he first moved to St. John from New York City. Like it was yesterday, he tells the story of how he and much of St. John listened on shortwave radio to the 1936 boxing match where Max Schmeling trounced Joe Louis.
In 1978, he started working as director of the V.I. Medical Institute.
In March 1983, the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center opened, and he became the first administrator. He also oversaw activities at the Morris de Castro Clinic on St. John because both were then Health Department facilities.
"I stayed until 1995, when I was forced to retire," he said.
During his tenure at Myrah Keating Smith, 1989's Hurricane Hugo destroyed the entire building. Morch headed the reconstruction project. It reopened in 1994.
After retiring from the Health Department, he went back to the V.I. Medical Institute as communications director, the job he still holds and one that takes him at least every two weeks to St. Croix and every weekday to St. Thomas.
Although Morch has had an illustrious career, he wasn't all work and no play. While living in East Pakistan, he won singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles in tennis tournaments, he said.
Arthritis in his knees and back forced him to give up tennis, but he still walks, including that daily mile trek down Centerline Road to the ferry.
He's co-founded the St. John branch of AARP and is a member of the Lion's Club and American Legion Post 131.
The pace of St. John life and development today shocks Morch, who remembers St. John when it had only two white people, Benjamin Rhoades and St. John administrator Dr. Arthur Edison.
"After a while you're going to have a concrete jungle," he said.
However, he said that the presence of the V.I. National Park will at least keep the island's center intact.
Moving back to Silver Spring will pose some adjustments, probably more so for his wife, Morch said. He said he doesn't want to leave, but is going because his wife needs his help.
"I love St. John," he said with a catch in his voice.

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