Richard Phillipy Retires after 38 Years in Teaching
Lawrence Central High School teacher Richard Phillipy spent 30 years inspiring his students to make books, poetry and art come to life, seeking to engage students in understanding the author’s voice so that they could begin to understand their own. After 38 years of teaching, hundreds gathered at Old Oaken Clubhouse to celebrate his accomplishments and likely mourn his retirement on August 12.
While much can be written about the facts of his career, the truth is so much more could be written about the impact he had on his students and why so many students made it their goal to have his class at some point in their career at LCHS. He cared as much about his students personally as he did their grasping the greatest works of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
Phillipy demonstrated this by understanding what mattered in his student’s world by attending their sporting events, band and choir concerts and theatre productions. “He is passionate and intelligent, but he really cares about you. He’s an amazing teacher but an even greater person,” said Eric Russner of San Diego, one of his former students.
As a child, Phillipy had only traveled to two other places outside of Indiana. He was educated at Peru High School, received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at Indiana State University, taught at Secina Memorial High School for eight years and served the remainder of the 30 years at LCHS. He reflected, “I kind of had a real yen for travel and certainly developed some wanderlust for travel.”
But it was repeated classroom conversations that opened the door in 1993. “New York came up a lot because of our readings in American Literature, and I said, ‘You know, that would be fun to go there, and so six kids from my junior class and I went off to New York in 1993. That was the first trip.”
He said, “There was a courier that led us around, but frankly, I didn’t think he knew much of anything, and I realized I could do as good a job as that guy.” So the next year when those kids were seniors, he took the first group to Europe. They joined another group in Europe, but he realized again, he did not like being with other groups and spending so much time on the bus.
That is when the thought came to him, “Could I do this on my own and be a courier?” LCHS Administration reluctantly agreed. So for the past 23 trips or so, he has been the organizer. He hired a passport company to book the hotels, restaurants and such. But he runs the show as the tour guide, a shoulder to cry on and everything in between.
Then he circles back to talking about his students. To this day, he can pick up any photo from his past student trips and tell you the students’ names, their spouses, their jobs, their children, their parents’ names. He’s been to their graduation ceremonies and weddings, and they stay in touch. There is likely no greater compliment to a teacher than to have impacted the lives of his students, and Phillipy certainly accomplished that in his storied career.
Perhaps Phillipy’s philosophy about his travel is a statement that most accurately describes his future. “I have a propensity that if a group goes one way, we go in the opposite direction to see what we can see.”
Phillipy’s retirement will likely be quite the adventure.