Sidney Morse intentionally changed his life. "I wanted to expand my horizons, rid myself of fears I had had as a kid," he said.
So, at 49, he took swimming and sailing lessons. ("I had a tremendous fear of water.") He took est training, became a certified scuba diver and did two Outward Bound wilderness endurance trips, rappelling cliffs. "With these tools I felt I could challenge anything." He also became a licensed pilot and bought a Cessna 82. To sail, he bought a 36-foot Catalina.
Didn't Bat an Eyelash
This week, sitting in his seventh-floor office, where he camps as the largest single owner of the California Mart (8,000 employees, 2,000 showrooms for 10,000 apparel/accessory lines), he didn't bat an eyelash when the 4.5 earthquake shook his fish tank and disarrayed photos on the walls.
"Yes, I did appear relaxed," he acknowledged a minute later. "Yes, I'm calm. It's the Outward Bound training--the ability to assess risk and real risk."
A man of the times (he named his daughter Jonna after Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) because she was born on the day the astronaut orbited Earth), Morse will receive the National Jewish Humanitarian Award for community service from the Denver-based National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine on Tuesday at a dinner-dance at the Beverly Hilton. He's lent his name to the cause because he knows what it's like to rush a child with asthma--Jonna, now an adult--to a hospital in the middle of the night.
"These events always need a catalyst to raise money," he said. He expects a crowd of 700, a net of $150,000. To be sure, he's sent 200 personal letters to his friends inviting them to buy tickets at $250 per person or $2,500 per table. If they don't, he'll phone.
But he has some help: Heading the event are co-chairs Michael Hecht, chairman and CEO, The Broadway; Robert Mettler, president and CEO, Robinson's, and Kenneth Sokol, CEO, The May Co. That's what friends are for.
Morse lives with his wife, Faye, who is learning to fly. He has four adult children by a previous marriage.
His father, Barney Morse, and uncle, Harvey Morse, opened the downtown California Mart in 1964.
"I'm here because of my father," Morse said. "I'm pretty lucky . . . and I have felt rather compulsive about giving back to the community."
In Los Angeles he puts the Los Angeles Headquarters City Assn., Pacific Crest Outward Bound School and Los Angeles Theatre Center highest on his list of involvements. But he's also devoted to Rotary International and the Jewish Community Foundation.
He is a major fund-raiser for the Theatre Center. Reeling off the theater's new plays, he adds, "I do this for intellectual stimulus."
With Los Angeles Headquarters City Assn., the mission is networking to help companies establish jobs and maintain headquarters in Los Angeles. And with Rotary, he's also devoted to its efforts for the Los Angeles Police Department's DARE program to get kids off drugs. But, from the businessman's point of view, Morse wonders, "How are you going to make a guy running drugs making $100,000 a year--what are you going to do to make him settle for a $25,000 job?"
That's the challenge, says Morse, who has run 14 marathons, collects old maps of California as an island and believes that most people need catalysts to change lives.