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Ila Phillips: Teacher for Life

     Every day when Willow Brook resident Ila Phillips rises, she makes a vow.  “Whatever is today, I accept.”

     It’s a philosophy that has suited her for 104 years and carried her through many transitions of life.

     Whether it was coping with the Depression while growing up on a Nebraska farm, or teaching school or serving as a minister’s wife, Ila embraces her situation.  She takes what comes and makes the best of it.

     And while she accepts challenges with grace, Ila knows how to go after what she wants. It’s always been like that.

     At age six, on her first day of school, she marched into the classroom all alone and announced to her teacher,  “My name is Ila Gifford, and I spell it I-l-a.”  Having established the correct spelling of her name, Ila set about planning her future. At the end of the day, she informed her mother, “I know what I’m going to be. I’m going to be a teacher.”   And that’s exactly what she did.

     Born on Nov. 4, 1915, Ila lived with her parents and sister on a farm, where the family raised hogs, cattle and sheep. “We were a tightly woven family,” she says.  “I did a lot of chores to help out. I gathered eggs, picked cobs from the pig pen, and when I got older, I drove hay mowers and hay stackers.”

And when she awakes each day, Ila opens her eyes – eyes that are as clear and blue as the Nebraska sky – and resolves, “Whatever is today, I accept.”

     Ila graduated from high school in 1933 as valedictorian. She landed her first teaching job in a school with 13 pupils.  The school was located “out on the tableland,” far from town. “I was just 17, but I wore all the hats,” she says. “I was the janitor, teacher, recess supervisor, everything.”

     Ila boarded with a farmer and sent most of her paycheck home to her parents, who were struggling as a result of the Depression and the Dust Bowl.

     Ila remembers the devastation in the region. ““The ground was so fine, that when the wind blew, it would just whip up like big bowls.  So many farms were destroyed. Ours wasn’t, but the economy was very bad.”

     Looking for a fresh start, Ila’s family moved to California. Her father got a job in a factory. Even though the family had farmed for generations, everyone adapted. 

Ila Phillips with her daughter, Brinda Price

     As for Ila, she seized the chance to go to college. She graduated with honors from Pasadena College with degrees in psychology and English literature.

     Eager to resume teaching, Ila accepted a job at a parochial school in Michigan and taught children to read. The school had a seminary, and it was there, in 1942, that Ila met Wilbur Phillips, who was studying to be a pastor.

     “He was the love of my life.” she says. “We married two years later and had a wedding that probably no one has ever duplicated.”

     That’s because Ila and Wilbur got married at 10:30 pm in a church with 500 guests.

     “It was graduation day at the college, so I marched in the academic procession at 7:30 p.m, then I ran over to the church,” she says. “So many people knew Wilbur and me, they came right over to the church after graduation.”  After shaking hands with their 500 guests, the newlyweds went to a diner and grabbed a bite to eat at 2 a.m.

     Ila continued teaching in Michigan, had two children (Brinda and Byron) and helped with her husband’s church, the Pilgrim Holiness Church.  They moved to Ohio in 1964 for Wilbur’s ministry.

     Ila retired from teaching at age 65, but Wilbur kept working until he was 80. Her beloved husband passed away in 2002, and Ila lived alone until she was 101.

     “At that point, I couldn’t stay alone anymore, because I was in pain and couldn’t walk. My son-in-law’s mother lived in assisted living at Willow Brook, so I decided to move in, too.”

     Ila enjoys playing scrabble with friends, reads voraciously and dresses impeccably. And when she awakes each day, Ila opens her eyes – eyes that are as clear and blue as the Nebraska sky – and resolves, “Whatever is today, I accept.”