COTTAGE GROVE, MINN. — Barely 48 hours after she returned from a historic trip to Cuba with President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was sitting at the kitchen table of Sandy and Ramon “Ray” Morgan of Cottage Grove.
She’d come to help the couple celebrate Ray Morgan’s first passport.
That’s usually not much of a reason to break out the champagne — or to host a senator — but the Morgans had to work extra hard for this passport, with a personal assist from Klobuchar.
“Look, we do work on a lot of complex issues, but sometimes the little things mean the most,” Klobuchar said.
The couple planned a trip to the Canadian Rockies for Ray Morgan’s 90th birthday. But when he tried to apply for a passport, he discovered that he was, to borrow a title from a Coen Brothers movie, “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”
“I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life,” he said. “I worked for the federal government for 35 years and I was in the Navy during World War II, but when I tried to get a passport I couldn’t because I didn’t have a birth certificate.”
That’s because Morgan, like his six siblings, was born at home. Calvin Coolidge was president at the time, and if a fellow said he’d been born, people took his word for it.
“That was quite common in our neighborhood,” said Morgan, who was born in Sioux City, Iowa.
“Most of the guys I knew were born at home. They didn’t have money enough to go to the hospital.”
His wife threw herself into the paper chase, obtaining census and school records as well other documentation. They finally sent the application off to the passport office, but had to play the waiting game. They returned a deposit on their trip because they weren’t sure if the passport would arrive on time.
Morgan made numerous trips to Canada when he worked in Detroit for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Back then, visitors needed only show a valid driver’s license to cross into Canada.
Klobuchar’s office learned of the Morgan’s plight through a TV news report.
“He was stunned to find out that he couldn’t go up there without a passport and he was more stunned to find that he couldn't get a passport because there was no proof of his birth,” Klobuchar said.
Presumably, she made a clean, swift cut through the red tape, and before long a brown envelope from the Minnesota Passport Office came in the Morgans’ mail. They waited until Klobuchar arrived to open it.
“It was very fun to watch an 89-year-old open his passport for the first time,” Klobuchar said.
Morgan said he was “very impressed” with the senator. His passport photo? Not so much.
“When they showed me the picture I said, ‘My god, that looks like my grandfather. That’s his passport.’ When you're getting toward 90 you look like a lot of your ancestors.”