It is a common belief when frequenting taverns there are several topics to avoid. These topics include religion, politics and in Illinois, whether the Cubs or Cardinals is the superior baseball team. In Central Illinois, and especially this time of year – though it is normally a bit early – another topic to avoid is whether or not Little Gray Morel mushrooms are the same as Big Yellow Morel mushrooms. 

When it came to topics of the natural world, Monte’s knowledge was vast, especially when it came to those things in the natural world he had personally witnessed.  When he would tell local Morel mushroom aficionados Little Grays and Big Yellows were the same, nary a one would believe him.  Not even when he tried to tell them over the years he had purposely left Little Grays alone and watched them over a brief period of time grow into Big Yellows.  

Below is an image from an internet site showing the growth of a Little Gray into a Big Yellow:


And information from The Mushroom Expert states,

DNA analysis of MDCP collections confirms what mycologists have long suspected: that “gray” morels are not genetically distinct, as a group. The many specimens labeled “grays” by collectors have not grouped together, DNA-wise, to the exclusion of other morels that do not have dark pits and pale ridges. In short, DNA evidence does not support the idea that “gray morels,” in the midwestern and eastern sense, are a separate species.

Further, that,

…..that some populations of morels are consistently “gray” from youth to maturity, year to year. The explanation for these consistently gray “grays” is not entirely clear (it may have something to do with weather conditions or other ecological factors)–but it is not because the morels in question constitute a separate species, according to the available scientific evidence.


Over the years while Monte and Sharyl resided in the old Dr. Betts home, Morel mushrooms would rise underneath two large Blue Spruce trees in their yard.  Monte and Sharyl, and especially Monte, would refuse to pick them out of hopes for the patch to grow larger and larger as years went by. Slowly, word of this patch spread throughout the area and often neighbors would threaten to sneak into their yard and pick their bounty. 

This was just one more area where Monte witnessed the Little Grays turn into Big Yellows and even though he witnessed it, the local Morel mushroom aficionados steadfastly refused to believe it and would stubbornly argue their point just as strongly as a Cub or Cardinal fan when coming up against their opponent.  

So even though Monte knew this, when in taverns, he still dared to bring up religion, politics and that Little Grays do turn into Big Yellows if left alone. 


When it came to Monte’s artistic inspiration, he was fortunate enough to be exposed to landscapes and scenery that enhanced his pieces and allowed his recreation of nature scenes of a wide variety.  And while these dramatic places included places like the Grand Teton Mountains, Canada, Alaska and the Smoky Mountains, many other dramatic visuals came from views within Central Illinois.

Monte grew up in and around the Illinois River Bottoms.  While many may think views within the river bottoms mainly consist of Silver Maple trees and brackish waters, for those that would look more carefully, more remarkable observations might be made.

And whether in color or black and white mediums, Monte tried to create emotive illustrations to reflect his visual experiences.

Below is an early pencil drawing of waterfowl fighting stormy weather and rough water on a dark day.

Below is a painting with contrasting colors, depicting how Monte may have seen a fall day from his views around Big Lake.

Below is another fall depiction of waterfowl in flight with a dramatic sky background.  Monte would have seen views such as this many time either from his days as a duck hunting pusher or as the site manager at Big Lake.

While Monte remarked plenty of times about the scenery of Central Illinois, he was still able to draw inspiration from the natural world he was able to observe throughout his life.

On Thursday, March 8, 1962 at 5:29 P.M., Kathy Angela Ellis was born.  Kathy was born premature at three pounds, thirteen ounces and was the oldest of two children.

According to Sharyl, Monte’s mother Zelma had told her she was always fond of the name “Kathy” and if she had had a daughter of her own, she would have named her “Kathy”.

Of course, Kathy was Monte and Sharyl’s little angel.  Just like any child to a parent, Kathy was very special and had a great influence on both her parents.  Kathy always had a tender heart, a nurturing personality and put almost all others before herself.  She was also her own her greatest critic.

While growing up at Big Lake, one time Kathy and her younger brother Eric found a bottle of baby aspirin.  Thinking the tablets were candy, Kathy, being the older sibling, divided up the sugary tablets.  Due to her unselfish generosity even at that age, she gave Eric two pills to her one.  Both children ate their share and ended up in the hospital.  The tube used for pumping stomachs was too large for Eric’s nostrils and caused bleeding.  Over the years this story was told many times and mostly to illustrate Kathy’s caring of others, even when misbehaving.

When it came to Monte’s artwork, Kathy pushed Monte as hard as anyone could.  For a lengthy period of time she also helped Monte craft his wildflowers, which would have went on even longer if Monte had not become ill with colon cancer.

For a long time, Kathy also had a moderating influence on Monte and his behavior.  As with Zelma, a stern rebuke from Kathy could straighten Monte’s path, but unfortunately for just a period of time.  Eventually, Monte would return to his stubborn ways and late in life travel about any path he desired beyond almost anyone’s rebukes.

There is no doubt Kathy was crucial to Sharyl’s own life and was the spark that kept her going.  Through much of her later life, Sharyl was stricken with a variety of illnesses and through these illnesses it was clear she obviously found much of her energy to carry on through her daughter.

Kathy passed away in 2005.  She was forty-three years old.