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Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around him, Jerry Phillips lived fully in the moments he was given while holding his loved ones near. He was a simple man who was content in whatever life brought, and his compassion for those around him was easy to see. A devoted family man, Jerry was so very blessed when his family grew to include the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who made him so very proud. Life was not without times of trial for him, but he faced whatever came his way with strength and courage. Although he will be deeply missed, Jerry leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his loved ones will forever hold near and dear to their hearts.
During the first half of the 1940s, the eyes of our nation were focused overseas as countless young servicemen and women were deeply entrenched in the perils of WWII. Those who remained stateside eagerly awaited news from the front lines, and rationing on common goods became a way of life. Manufacturing was focused on supporting the war effort, and numerous American women stepped in to fill the shoes of the men who answered the call to serve. Amidst this eventful time was a time of great anticipation in the lives of Russell and Eleanor (Weathers) Phillips as they were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby as the beauty of the summer unfolded in Vicksburg, Michigan, in 1944. Their wait was over on June 8th when the baby boy they named Jerry Robert drew his first breath. Jerry was the youngest of three Phillips children as he was raised in the family home that was located next to the boat launch on West Lake in Portage. His father worked at a stamp company while his mother was a homemaker who worked for Meijer when Jerry was older.
In many ways, Jerry was a young boy of his generation. He loved being outdoors and was often out playing in the lake. Tragedy struck when Jerry was just a boy with the death of his father in 1951. His mother never remarried but raised Jerry and his siblings, Jon and Jimmy, on her own. He collected bottles on the side of the road to earn some extra money to buy Pepsi, but it was his brothers who usually drank them. Jerry attended Portage schools including Portage Central High School where he enjoyed history. This was something he enjoyed throughout his life. Jerry also worked in an auto shop and graduated in 1962. Not to be forgotten during this time was his blossoming romance with his high school sweetheart, Jon Bye. They married in 1962 while still in high school. Although they went their separate ways in 1971, Jerry was forever grateful for their two children, Kathy and Russ.
Throughout his life, Jerry was known for his strong work ethic. He initially started out working a few odds and ends jobs, primarily in manual labor. In 1969 Jerry was drafted into the United States Army and served with the Airborne Rangers 75th Infantry K Company. While serving in Vietnam for one year, Jerry was ambushed 19 times and suffered a bamboo trap to his arm. He later returned stateside, and like so many honorable servicemen and women it took Jerry some time to adjust to life as a civilian again. He started working as a 9-1-1 operator for the City of Portage and discovered that it was a good fit. Jerry always worked hard to provide for his family, rarely missing a day of work in his 30-year career with the City of Portage.
It was while working for the City of Portage that Jerry met a woman named Kathleen Hunt, and she also had a son from a previous marriage. Sparks flew, and in the late eighties they were married. Together they welcomed two additional children, Amanda and Jerome, into their hearts and home. They divorced in the late 1990s, and Jerry never remarried. He savored every moment that he had to spend with his loved ones, and he frequently spent time with his mother as he often brought his children over there for visits.
A man of many interests, Jerry was always busy doing something. During his younger years, he played some golf, and he was an all-around sports guy. Jerry followed all Notre Dame sports, and for a time he enjoyed taking a bus to the games and tailgating before the game. At home, he had his viewing chair. Jerry also followed the Cubs and Tigers. He liked his John Deere riding mower, and he loved listening to the birds and AM 590 WKZO with coffee while reading the paper. Jerry enjoyed going to the Studio Lounge on Westnedge, Long Lake Tavern, and Bud’s Bar where he always had fun with friends. While out he usually had Budweiser Draft, but at home it was Hamm’s and Busch beer. Of course, alongside his Vantage cigarettes, and Planter’s peanuts. Jerry liked mystery novels, westerns, and classic films with Blazing Saddles being one of his all-time favorites. He was an avid Mel Brooks fan, but he always told his kids, “Don’t repeat that,” while watching. Throwing random quotes at each other later became a family pastime. Among Jerry’s long list of favorite sayings were, “Busier than a one-armed paper hanger!”, and “We’re off, on a gale of hen s***!” As he got older and slowed down some, he and Jerome enjoyed just being home, and they took great care of each other. It was just a short time ago that it was discovered that Jerry had both lung and brain cancer. He had already been dealing with basal cell skin cancer for many years prior.
All who knew Jerry Phillips would agree that he was so much fun to be around. He had a dry humor and was fun-loving and a great conversationalist, but he also liked his alone time. At times, Jerry could be stern, but he was also very kind and had a spirit of compassion that blessed others in so many ways. Jerry was a simple person who was also a bit meticulous when it came to the way he liked things done. Deeply loved, he will never be forgotten.
Jerry Robert Phillips, of Portage, passed away peacefully on the morning of January 4, 2017, at his home. Members of his family include 4 children: Kathy Thomas, Russell Phillips, Amanda Phillips, and Jerome Phillips; 5 grandchildren; and 6 great grandchildren; 2 brothers: Jon (Julie) Phillips and Jimmy (Marcia) Phillips; and many nieces, nephews and cousins. Visit with family and friends on Monday from 4-7 p.m. at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900 where services will be held Tuesday 11 a.m. Burial will follow at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Please visit Jerry’s personal web page at www.lifestorynet.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial contributions may be made to Southern Care Hospice.