Phyllis Killips, assistant to the president, just celebrated her 40th anniversary of working with the League, and she sat down to answer a few questions about the changes she’s seen since the 1970s.
Q: How did you come to work at the League (then the Michigan League for Human Services)?
A: I had just graduated high school and a friend and I decided we needed jobs. We went to an employment service to take some tests. When the service reported my typing score to the Michigan League for Human Services, they called and said, “Get her over here!” I had several interviews—one with our very serious director at the time, Maury Beck—and they hired me. I couldn’t believe it. It was my very first job offer and I took it.
Q: What are some of your first memories of the League?
A: My second day of work was our big regional meeting. They gave me a nametag marked “staff” and had me sit at the publications table. I was 17 years old and had no idea what the League was all about. I was terrified! People kept asking me questions and I really didn’t know the answers. A few days later, I was asked to take minutes at a board meeting. For whatever reason, they thought I could do these things. And eventually I did!
Q: The League’s board of directors recently presented you with a cake that featured a typewriter. How has technology changed your job over the years?
A: Well, our typewriters weren’t that ancient. We had memory typewriters when I started, so you’d program the typewriter with up to 50 different settings. It was great to be able to save the information, but since you had no visual, you had no idea whether or not you had made a mistake, and you had to keep lists of all the programs. Computers came to the office in ’81 or ’82, and that changed everything. It made our jobs so much easier because we could actually see what we were typing.
Our donor and member database is something I really love. I was nervous about learning it at first, but it has made my work so much more efficient. That’s one thing…I tend to want to stick to what I know, but that taught me that sometimes it’s better to try something new.
Q: You’ve invested 40 years here. What made you decide that the League was more than just a temporary job?
A: Oh, the people. Even though a lot of people have come and gone in the time I’ve been here, they’ve all been really wonderful. Everyone is helpful and it’s been a great place. It’s like family*. And the fact that everyone here is working to help families and children in Michigan, well, that’s just something so special.
*In Phyllis’s case, it’s not just “like” family. Mary Logan, who also works in the office, is Phyllis’s sister-in-law. Phyllis’s brother was looking for a date back in 1979, so Phyllis offered to set him up with the “new girl” at work. He needed to see a picture before he’d commit, so Phyllis awkwardly asked Mary to give her one of her senior pictures. A double date was set, and the rest is family history.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in your time here?
A: Well, we’ve changed our name and moved to four different offices! When I first started, we were on Mill Street, where Impression 5 is now. Then we moved downtown to Washington, then the Penn Building. I love our office today in Old Town. It’s great to be near the river trail and be able to take walks.
Q: What fun memories do you have of your time here?
A: Oh, boy! There are too many to say. And some I probably shouldn’t say! I vividly remember a fundraiser we did—it was called the “Corned Beef Fundraiser.” I have no idea why that was the theme, but it was a big deal—an event we did one year in the 80s with the help of the UAW. Lynn Jondahl, who has been on the board since I’ve been here, was the emcee. He’s a really funny guy and had us all laughing so hard. Everyone really enjoyed the night so much, and afterward we all went to the Boom Boom Room in Lansing…a crazy place! So that’s maybe a good place to stop that story!
Obviously the 100th Anniversary Gala was a special event. Lots of former employees came back for that in 2012 and we put a lot of work into making it a good celebration.
And I think the most heartwarming memory is when Sharon Parks, the previous director, retired. It was really sweet. Mary, Tillie, Jackie and I all put on hats and sang a song that Mary wrote. It was a great send-off to Sharon, and a great way to welcome Gilda to the office.
I’m just glad to be here. I had an opportunity to leave once, and I’d probably be retired by now if I’d taken it. But being here, working with such supportive people, it’s good. I’m glad I stayed.
— Phyllis Killips