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Life Story / Obituary
Bill Phillips [Charles W. Phillips] a.k.a "The Red-faced Caucasian"
Growing up in Poverty:
"Billy" grew up in extreme poverty in Benton Harbor, Michigan after his Dad passed away when he was seven years old. His mother, Minnie Esther, supported their family by working in a laundromat. The family left behind by the loss of their father, included his older brothers, Dale and Fred, and his younger sister, Pat. Humor was a thread that the family held onto throughout their life as they all became great storytellers who always filled rooms with laughter. Whenever our Dad saw his brother, Fred after an absence, they both threw their arms open, and yelled, "brother" loudly and gave each other a great bear hug.
Once of our most vivid memories of our Dad was when he came home from work each day. The first child to spot him, would start the chant, "Daddy's home." All seven of us [Beth, Patty, Sherri, Leann, Chuck, Michael, and Julie] would come running out of the house, surrounding him with hugs. My Mom would often need to chide us, telling us to make some space so he could breathe! He also privately told each of us that we were his favorite, but we should be sure not to tell the others! Of course, we knew that he told all of us the same thing!
On a very regular basis we spent holidays and week-ends, nine of us traveling in our station wagon between Michigan City, Indiana, where our Mom's family lived, and St. Joe/Benton Harbor, Michigan, where my Dad's family lived. We usually traveled at night, encouraged (hopefully) to "go to sleep". (I still struggle to stay awake on road trips.) Once, when we were leaving St. Joe after visiting our Uncle Fred's family, they forgot me (Leann). They got about 30 minutes away before someone realized I was not in the car, and they had to turn around to come and get me. I was so engrossed in "playing Barbie’s", that I didn't notice when my Uncle's house suddenly became quiet because my family had left.
A "Bill Phillips" classic was his retro-fitting of our station wagon to fit all nine of us when we traveled between Winston Salem, North Carolina and Jenison, Michigan. In order for all of us to be comfortable and, hopefully sleep during the 15-hour trip traveled overnight, he inserted a board on the wheel bases in the back end of the station wagon. Some of us slept on the top of the board, some of us slept underneath. Obviously, this was before the seat belt and car seat laws!
We are all so proud of his quick rise into management at Michigan Bell, later AT&T. Starting off as a line-man, within a couple of years, he was given a test to see if he would be a good manager. He loved to tell the story of being given an in-basket full of papers and a limited period of time to make decisions about how to handle the information. One example of the type of information in the basket included having a meeting scheduled that day with someone who, in digging deeper he discovered, had died. Years later he was very excited when he was asked to be put "on loan" from Michigan Bell to Western Electric, which moved us from Michigan to Winston Salem, North Carolina. He purchased a beautiful historic home and worked as a Technical Writer, traveling all over the country to learn about new technologies. He loved this job and said it was his favorite of all of his positions. By the end of his career, he was the Manager of the Installation and Repair of all business phones in Western Michigan, with hundreds of employees under his management.
When we were growing up he and my mother were very involved in the inner circle at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Grandville, Michigan. So much so, that during the guitar mass era of the 60's and 70's, we had the parish priests (Father Jack and Father --later Monsignor--McGee) give home masses at our home and homes of our friends. I can still recall the lamb-shaped cake for an Easter home mass with all of their friends and family in attendance. After his children attended the St. Pius X Catholic School for six years, as leader of the parish council, he helped make the decision to close the Catholic School. His sense of justice was provoked because the majority of the parish money earmarked for religious education went to the children attending the parish school, while a majority of the children attended public schools and received their religious education via a catechism program outside of school hours. In righting what he viewed was an unfair use of the parish funds, he was forced to pull his own children from the catholic school. He then led the catechism program at the parish, even teaching one of the high school catechism classes.
Growing up my parents decided to put an above-ground pool in our backyard as bringing seven children to the beach was way too much work. We spent many wonderful hours swimming in our pool, which traveled to three different houses with us. When we first got the pool, my Uncle Fred gave us the sign, "Please don't pee in our pool, we don't swim in your toilet." Later, he began the tradition of camping at Brouwer Park on the Muskegon River. We loved these trips so much, as we got to spend a whole week with our Dad, just relaxing and having fun. He purchased an older, turquoise-colored Duo boat where we all learned how to water-ski and spent many, many wonderful hours on that river.
One of the most treasured times of my Dad's life were those spent hunting with his son, Michael. Although his other son, Chuck, did go with him once, Chuck just wasn't a hunter and so bowed out of these trips. Michael and his son-in-law, Skip [who was married to his youngest daughter, Julie, at the time] were the usual partners-in-crime who attended the hunting camps with Dad. Later Michael's son, Brandon, joined them in their hunting escapades. My Dad treated them like royalty and fed them very well. He was given the honorary name, "Cookie” by the guys. These trips were filled with laughter, and, as I understand, plenty of gas.
The Flannel Shirt:
When our Dad married Sandy, they started many traditions surrounding Christmas. They hosted an "adult dinner" combining the seven of us and Sandy's two sons, Brent and Brian, and our spouses. The prime rib dinner was both elegant and fun, followed by a game of "dirty santa" afterward. Then, on Christmas Eve, the family gathering (which was huge) was loved by one and all. We all looked forward to these gatherings all year. There was always a piñata batted at by the children until it broke, spilling its candy on the carpet. My Dad always made a call on a speaker phone to the Utah contingency; to the families of his daughter, Patty and his son, Michael, as they also gathered together for Christmas. Although Sandy had the masterful ability to figure out the most desired gift each year for every age group, they weren't quite sure what to get for each boyfriend/spouse who came into the family. Therefore, an unintended tradition began, as each new boyfriend/husband received a flannel shirt as their Christmas gift. Each guy knew that once he received his flannel shirt, he had made it into the Phillips' family. At the funeral, the male members of our family are honoring my Dad and Sandy by wearing flannel shirts.
PHILLIPS – Charles William Phillips, "Bill" age 82 of Grand Rapids, passed away unexpectedly September 1, 2017. Bill was born and attended high school in Benton Harbor, MI. He retired from a successful career with AT&T in 1989. Bill volunteered for the Y's Mens Club and Santa Claus Girls. He enjoyed running, bow hunting with sons and in-laws, golfing, and a good mystery novel. Bill enjoyed a trip to the casino from time to time, and brunch at “Pops” restaurant. Bill is preceded in death by his wife, Sandra J., parents, LeRoy and Esther (Williams) Phillips; and his siblings, Dale, Fred, and Patricia (Moss) Phillips. Bill is survived by his children Elizabeth (Andrew) Parling, Patrice Phillips-Bauman, Sherri (Michael) Pell, Leann (Rodger) Garrison, Charles Phillips Jr., Michael (Lisa) Phillips, Julie (Edward) Minor, and step sons, Brent (Mary Jo) Peterson and Bryan Peterson; 27 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. His memorial service will be held on Thursday, September 7 at 11 AM at Wallin Congregational Church, 1550 Oswego NW, where friends may visit with his family beginning at 10 AM. For those who wish, memorial contributions to Wallin Church are appreciated. To read more about Bill's life, to share a memory or photo, or to sign his guestbook, visit www.lifestorynet.com