A quilt commemorating the 1994 retirement of beloved principal, Ed Phillips, is now on permanent display at Garfield School. No one was more pleased by this than Ed himself. He learned about it just before his death at the age of 86, on July 28, 2020.

Ed had been deeply touched when students gave him the quilt. He proudly hung it in the family room of his LaGrange Park home. The quilt brings back treasured memories for all who worked with Ed during his long tenure at District 91.

Forest Park was more “small town” then and Ed knew small towns. Edward Lloyd Phillips was raised in the tiny coal mining community of Cuba, IL. His father was a miner, but Ed chose a different path. He earned his P.E. degree at nearby Monmouth College.

By 1970, Ed was a P.E. teacher in Forest Park. That’s where future principal, John Ericksen, met him. Ericksen struck up a conversation with a tall man with an athletic build, who wore a whistle around his neck. They kept talking for the next 50 years, as he and his wife, Sandy, became lifelong friends with the Phillips family.

Ed made countless friends in Forest Park. They were attracted by his soft-spoken kindness. Ed was also just plain fun. He was a gifted athlete who excelled at baseball, fishing and golf. When he wasn’t playing sports, Ed was watching them. He was a Bears season ticket holder for over 40 years.

Before the start of each school year, Ed and his wife Chris hosted a fish fry for District 91 staff. Those were heady times. Enrollment was up and Superintendent Art Jones presided over a team of dedicated educators that included Joe Scolire, Margie Martin and Jamie Stauder.

Stauder recalled when Ed’s longtime secretary, Joanne Leber, called to offer her an aide’s position at Garfield. Stauder had done her student teaching there in 1990 and readily accepted. She has never left the school and is now in her 30th year as an administrator.

That shows how special the district could be. Staff members were a close-knit bunch that socialized often. They even vacationed together. Ed’s home in Florida became known as “Forest Park South.” Many colleagues visited Ed to enjoy rounds of golf. Ericksen and others joined Ed for annual fishing trips to Canada.

Ed was fun but took his job seriously. He was doing the work of two people, simultaneously serving as principal of Garfield and Grant-White. Evening meetings caused Ed to miss family time with Chris and their two sons, Brad and Matt but his students were a priority.

Ed had the gift of reaching students from unstable backgrounds. He had great empathy for struggling students. One student recalled, “He was never about just handing out punishment. He was about us learning from our mistakes.”

Staff members also learned from Ed. Stauder credited Ed with being a great mentor, even in retirement. Leber recalled how progressive Ed was. He initiated an Educational Advisory Council, a joint effort of the schools, park district and village to promote education in the community. Ed also founded the first-ever Pre-K program in town at the Eagles Lodge. 

The quilt captures scenes from Ed’s career and personal life. The panels were drawn and signed by Garfield students. A PTA member and seamstress, Carol Wool, gave the quilt its professional look.

Colleagues remained close with Ed until the end. Martin recalls that on one of her final visits, she told Ed about the quilt being displayed at Garfield. He became very enthusiastic and exclaimed, “Oh, really!”

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.