NORMAN — Allen Morain has lived in Norman for nearly all of his 70-plus years. He views the city through the eyes of a man who recalls a great childhood and youth in a culture very different than today.
He also has the perspective of a businessman, one who saw his father’s and mother’s hard work blossom into a business that he helped grow into one of Norman’s most successful enterprises.
Morain was just 5 years old when his father was moved here from Clinton to maintain the projection machines for the five screens owned by the Griffin theater chain.
“He worked noon to midnight, seven days a week,” Allen Morain recalls. That left mornings free so the senior Morain left the house carrying a tool box and a ladder. “He went door to door in the business area from the railroad tracks to Porter, down one side and up the other, asking if they had anything that needed repaired.”
He developed a reputation for being able to do about anything that needed done, and people referred to his talents as “Gordon’s specialties,” a phrase he would later use as the name of his business.
Morain’s mother worked hard, too, as a bookkeeper for the family operation and she was a key player in the popcorn business. “Dad repaired the popcorn machines in the theaters and he thought people might buy popcorn at ballgames. So he bought a popcorn machine, and Mom popped corn to take to the ballgames.” The young Morain helped the family by selling bags of popped corn in the campus fraternity houses,
They did all they could to earn a living and to begin to accumulate a little extra. “My dad even thought about how people couldn’t hear well at the high school and OU ball games so he bought a sound system and loud speaker that he would set up at the games. He got a little money, of course.”
It was at the dinner table young Morain heard the conversations between his parents. “We need to collect from (name) so that we can pay the supplier on Friday” his father would say. “For a long time it was hand to mouth,” he recalls. “That’s how business was in those days,” the war years and beyond.
His mother worked day and night, as well, not only keeping up with the family interests, but working as a seamstress. “I still have the book where she wrote down everything she did and what she was paid for it. She would make a whole dress for $7.”
The Navy installations in Norman changed the community drastically. For the Morains, it meant that there were five additional theaters in town, and his father got the job of maintaining the Navy movie house projectors as well. He even was exempted from service “because they needed him to maintain the Navy’s theater equipment.”
Gordon Morain was making $75 a week at the theaters, and he was earning quite a bit with his toolbox. “Mom and Dad decided that when he got to the point he was making $75 a week with the toolbox, they could survive on that and he could quit the theaters.”
So it was in 1947 that the senior Morain capitalized on his tinkering abilities and his reputation and established his business, calling it “Gordon’s Specialties.” Just a dozen years later, Allen Morain finished a degree in business at OU and joined the family business.
“The business streamlined itself into heating and air conditioning,” Morain said, eventually taking that into the business name. His parents, now deceased, remained involved in the business for many years, and Allen Morain’s wife, Loyce, worked in the office. Later their son, Bruce, was a part of the business. In the 1990s a new business opportunity opened up and “200 mom and dad operations around the country” merged into Service Experts.
Stepping out of day-to-day operations of a business gave Morain a chance to spend more time with his family of four children and 17 grandchildren and for his outdoor sports activities. Although they live on a golf course, he said “hunting and fishing, that’s my golf.” A member of First Baptist Church since 1947, he and Loyce have time to work in the church ministries helping families in need. They regularly make hospital visitations “and call on people with needs. Doesn’t matter what denomination they are.”
In a mentorship program of First Baptist Church in cooperation with Lincoln Elementary he meets weekly with a boy who needs a male role model. “We do homework or I read to him, or he reads to me. It is a volunteer program that is not costing the government, the schools or the parents anything. Morain leaves each session each week with “a sense of being able to fill a void in that child’s life.”
Reflecting on the Norman he knew as a child and youth he says “life was simple. Things were unadulterated. People were trusting. They didn’t lock anything up.”
Being closely involved with his grandchildren, attending their sporting events and other activities, he sees the changes in lifestyles. He can look back to sharing three meals a day around the family table. He values most his family and the roots that grew deep through a lifetime in the Norman community.
Growing philosophical, he adds “I’ve seen a lot of comings and goings. But life is that way. Things change.”