Guest Editorial: Remembering Dutch Phillips

By on January 7, 2010

Editor’s note: Kaneville resident Lou Roenna gave the eulogy at the recent services of his neighbor, Dutch Phillips. Lou then submitted that eulogy as a letter to the editor. We are happy to share his thoughts on his good friend in this space in our paper.

Today we are here to say goodbye to an amazing person, Dutch Phillips, a very well respected and much loved individual.

It shows in the love and support he has received over the last two years, as he battled the insidious disease that claimed his life. It was never more apparent how much Dutch was loved and how highly he was regarded as it was over the last few weeks as his time with us grew shorter. The outpouring of love, prayers, and well wishes that he received from the dozens of family and friends who felt compelled to visit, write or call, was something to see.

We all wanted Dutch to know how much it had meant to have him in our lives, how much of an impact he had in our lives, how much we had learned from him. This was a testament to a life well lived, by a man who knew his priorities and clung to his principles no matter what obstacle life presented to him.

Dutch had that farmer’s common sense and practicality that you get from being raised on a farm. He always seemed to be doing exactly what he should be doing at exactly the time he should be doing it. He treated this disease with that same common sense. Use the time you have left for what is important, and Dutch knew what was truly important.

He loved his family dearly, his brothers and sisters, his children and grandchildren, and Jane, his beloved wife of 45 years. He was so proud of all of his family, he would just light up when he spoke about who was playing baseball, who was in what grade now, how great his children were doing. All of you meant the world to him and he loved you all dearly. He had hundreds of friends, but then Dutch made friends everywhere he went. He had a warmth about him, an ease with conversation, you always seemed to walk away feeling better after spending time with Dutch. He was the type of person that when you met him for the first time and talked for a while you felt like you had known him your whole life. That’s how it was when I first met him, like we had been friends forever. He personified an old saying I remember, “Treat your family like friends, and treat your friends like family.” He started calling me his kid brother shortly after we met; I am just one of many “kid brothers” he had adopted into his family.

To say Dutch was an avid gardener is a bit of an understatement. He was more like a farmer in need of a farm. As most of us know, he literally turned his whole yard into a vegetable garden. What wasn’t a vegetable garden had fruit trees, raspberries and strawberries. One of Dutch’s mottos was any time spent in the garden is time well spent. And quite a garden it was, with rows as straight as could be, always well kept, the plants just thriving. His excitement was contagious as he walked you around for the 25-cent tour and showed you the beans, the broccoli, the tomatoes.

How many new friends he made of strangers who passed by and told him what a great looking garden he had. “How do you do it?” “They would ask. “Do you have a minute? I’ll give you the tour,” he would tell them. Then they would get the 25-cent tour; they would also leave with a sack full of corn and other veggies. They would be strangers no more. They would be part of Dutch’s ever-widening circle of friends. They were touched by the warmth of his personality, the gesture of friendship, as all of us have experienced.
One of my favorite memories of Dutch is one that speaks to his character and how he valued people, even strangers. I was sitting on Dutch and Jane’s front porch one summer night a few years back. We were waving at the cars going past on Main Street, just enjoying a nice night. All of a sudden a car pulls up in front of Dutch’s house with a man alone and asking for directions to the nearest gas station.

He tells Dutch he is lost and his car is just about out of gas. Dutch is trying to find out what direction the man needs to go to send him in the right direction, but the man is really quite nervous because his gas tank is just about empty and he is not really being too clear about where he needs to go. So Dutch says please wait here, I’ll be right back. Off Dutch goes down his driveway, he comes back in a few seconds with a five-gallon gas can and proceeds to open the gentleman’s gas tank and pour a couple of gallons into his tank. Instantly this man who just a few moments ago was ready to have an anxiety attack calmed down. He finally was able to tell Dutch where he was trying to go. The stranger went into his pocket and pulled out a couple of dollars to give to Dutch for the gas, and Dutch in his firm but gentle way told the stranger, “No thank you.”

What Dutch said stuck with me; he said, “Please you go on; if you see someone on the road who needs help or assistance, please stop and help them; that’s how you can pay me back.” And once again someone who came in as a stranger left as a friend because of their encounter with Dutch.

We spent many nights on the porch waving at the cars as they went by, talking about life, the day’s events, plans for the future. One night I wondered out loud how many people live in Kaneville. I was looking for a number like 375 or 400. Not realizing Dutch was a counter, he starts at Harter and Main going towards Sugar Grove and starts naming the people in each house and how many people are in each house. You have the Ross’s, then the Rizzi’s, then the Ottosens, across the street you have the Alfrey’s.

I couldn’t stop him once he started. Luckily Jane was on the porch with us and stopped him before he got to the subdivision. We may well have been on the porch ‘til day break. Dutch would count anything, rows of corn, cars passing by on Main Street, how many trick-or-treaters came to the house on Halloween. But what’s funny was he knew the names, the families, and the history of the whole town. He not only named who lived in the house now but who used to live there.

We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot about gardening and even more about life from my friend Dutch. About having a set of values and living them. Finding out what’s truly important in your life and making that your priority. He was a terrific friend, a wonderful family man, a great teacher who taught not so much by what he said but by how he lived his life. He had a gentle but firm way about him. He thought through what was to be said and how it was to be said. When he learned he had cancer and how serious it was, he called me up to come over and talk. He made sure we were alone so I could feel free to cry, and I did.

But not Dutch; he was clear-eyed and as strong as I had ever seen him. He had worked it out in his mind. That farmer’s common sense and practicality kicked in. He was going to do what needed to be done, when it needed to be done. He told me how lucky he was in this life. His children were healthy and living well, he had wonderful, healthy grandchildren; he was still in love with his childhood sweetheart. He told me that he was glad it was him and not his wife, or children, or grandchildren. Why be angry, it’s here, that’s the reality of it. Why add to the weight of the disease with anger and resentment. What time is left needs to be used for what’s really important. Like taking family trips, visits with friends, making new friends, renewing old friendships, oh, and of course, working in the garden.

I thought about how I would react if the roles were reversed. My good friend grew in stature that cold January morning almost two years ago. I just have to believe that it was his attitude and courage that helped him get almost two more great years and countless more memories for all of us.

It was odd when Dutch found out he was sick. He was retiring, bought his dream farm in Missouri; he was making plans to leave the town he’d lived in all his life. When he told me his time would be short, I could only think of another old saying that man makes his plans and God sits back and laughs. I thought then that Dutch’s work was not done here. He was going to do the next right thing. He was going to teach us how a man faces a fatal disease with courage and garners the most out of the time he has left. He filled us with two years of memories we may not have gotten if he were a different kind of man. In that respect he will never leave us; he has impacted us in a way that will stay with us the rest of our days.

I’ll end with this; some people just pass through your life … others, come in, leave footprints on your heart, and you are forever changed. Dutch was just such a person.