The Man Without a Plan
Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of Top of the Rock, aside from how such a breathtakingly beautiful place exists right here in southwest Missouri, is that it and all of its parts were created without any real set of plans. “When the original Top of the Rock closed after the fire, the chef said, ‘Well, we really need a whole new kitchen,’” Jeanie says. “Well, one thing led to another, and here we are.” And Johnny seconds that fact. “I don’t know that we had any sort of architectural plans,” he says. “We just started off with a passion.” But, the truth behind the matter is, this wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary for a Morris project. That’s just the way Johnny works. “He always knows what he’s doing, but the process he uses to get there is totally different than most people,” Jeanie says. “He’s very hands-on.”
He’s so hands on, in fact, that he spent hundreds of enjoyable hours hiking and marking out the Lost Canyon Nature Trail to bring visitors into close contact with dramatic natural features. “He’d go out there with those little flags and fluorescent ties and mark which trees they could take out and where the trail would be,” Jeanie says. “He loves doing that stuff.” And to help capture the most scenic views possible, he also personally located each structure and approved every view from every window. “When he’s building something, they almost always do a mock up,” Jeanie says. “Then he goes out there and gets a forklift to get up and check the view from every opening and every window. He’s a nut about views.” He also approves all other decisions, small and large, on everything from the design to the décor.
But Johnny’s hands-on approach expands far beyond marking trails, approving views and okaying paint colors. In fact, he’s had a part in nearly every other feature at every single building of Top of the Rock, including finding many of the artworks, artifacts and thousands of arrowheads displayed in the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum. “My wife says she’s going to put me in AA—Arrowheads Anonymous,” Johnny says with a laugh. “We had a collection over at Dogwood, but then the building burned down, and we lost them. I started thinking it would be pretty neat to share this new collection, but I didn’t want to lose them like the old ones, so we put it all underground.”
This desire to share these many artifacts, shows the true face of Johnny’s character: Jeanie says sharing is an underlying goal in everything he does. “People ask us, you know, ‘Why not just build your own retreat?’” Jeanie says. “Well, that’s not the way he works. He wants to share everything.” And perhaps the most charming part is that he’s quiet and humble, and he never wants to take any of the credit for himself.
At press time, Johnny had an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion according to Forbes.com, but you would never know it. He is a man who is most comfortable in jeans and a familiar frayed green corduroy shirt. He’s more than content driving his well-worn Toyota pick-up truck, and he’s the kind of guy who would rather rent golf clubs than splurge on a set of his own. His true passion doesn’t lie in flaunting his money while wearing thousand-dollar suits; rather, it lies in sharing his fortunes with everyone else, including his many properties. “I think where Top of the Rock sits now—overlooking the lake—is one of the grandest views in the Ozarks,” Johnny says. “To me, the most important thing is that, when visitors come here, they can see and appreciate that hilltop and enjoy all the views and the surrounding nature.” And as for what’s next on his agenda, it’s hard to know exactly, but one thing is for sure: He isn’t going anywhere. “I’ve been blessed to travel a lot of places, but I think we’re all lucky to live right here,” Johnny says. “This is one of the most special places around.”