A Legacy of the Printed Word – Leo Phillips – 97

Homily from the Funeral for Leo E Phillips (November 5, 1916 – January 24, 2014)

Born the son of a wealthy German goldsmith in the late 1390’s, a young Johannes learned the trade of preparing metal for the minting of coins for the church. He was given the surname Gutenberg from the family house he lived in Meinz inherited by his father. After an uprising against the aristocracy, of which Johannes belonged, the exiled family was forced to move to Alta Villa to an estate that his mother had inherited. From there because of his political views he was forced to move to Strasburg where he stayed until the 1440’s when a failed business deal left him most unpopular with the investors who had lost their investments. The deal included polishing metal mirrors, said to capture holy light from the relics, which would be sold to pilgrims or tourist.

The legacy of Johannes Gutenberg is of course most widely known as inventor of the printing press back home in Meinz in around 1448 when Johannes took a small loan from his brother-in-law to begin mass-producing movable type in Europe.

Gutenberg’s ingenuity changed the world as books and all printed material became available in an economical way. In 1455 he completed his most famous printing the 42 – line Bible, named so for the 42 lines of type on each page. We commonly refer to this treasure as the Gutenberg Bible. Johannes died February 3, 1468 at the age of 70.

The advent of economical and mass produced printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information — including revolutionary ideas — transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation of the church and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class.

The printed word was a large part of the great awakening of human history and the precursor to the industrial, scientific and information ages.

The willingness to take a risk and the gritty determination of Gutenberg moved the edges of the world. He faced the challenges of political exile more than once. He endured the hardship of failure and embarrassment. He persisted and was successful without much recognition or fame while he was alive.

To pursue and invent a method or a machine or a printing press takes an attitude of hopefulness.

And, hopefulness is why we gather here in this place this afternoon in the face of the death of one we have known and loved. Hope is the source of our confidence and our strength and such was the case for the recipients of the letter from Peter from which we read moments ago. The early followers of the risen Christ were undergoing terrible persecutions at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero when Peter says God has made us alive again and given us a living hope through the resurrection of Christ! We have inherited a new kind of hope that is imperishable, a hope to sustain us even when the whole world seems to be falling apart around us.

This is the foundation of our hope, that today and tomorrow belong to God.  Whatever present sorrows and struggles we bear, God’s victory over death revealed to us in Jesus’ resurrection empowers us to live with strength and hope into the future. And, when we live in hope, our present sorrows are transformed into joy as we no longer fear death, we no longer struggle with disbelief or confusion. For God has made it clear, that death no longer has power over our tomorrows. Peter said,

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

With hopefulness we celebrate a full and well-lived life of 97yrs today. We have shared in Leo’s life story which began when he was born on November 5,1916 to Alva and Harriet Stewart Phillips in Memphis, MO. Leo Ellsworth Phillips came into this world a sign of hope and new life during the First World War for his family and community, when the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart.

Leo was the youngest of three siblings. Older brothers Clarence and Harold preceded him in birth by some 19 and 17 years and preceded him in death as well. Leo graduated from Memphis HS in the early 1930’s during the Great Depression. He began his life-long career in the printing business in his hometown working for the local paper, the Memphis Democrat. During his early printing years Leo caught his hand in a press losing fingers to his trade, which resulted in his exemption from the battlefront of WWII and so Leo supported the effort working for the Curtis Wright Airplane Company.

On July 21, 1940 he married his partner in life, whom he met at the skating rink, Madeline Blaine. Partners in life, faith, parenting, grand-parenting, printing, retirement and travel they celebrated 73 years of marriage last summer. Leo & Madeline, inseparable names in many of our hearts & minds, were blessed as they would tell you with good lives.

Three children, Sandra, William and Jan, Five Grandchildren and Sixteen Great Grandchildren rounded out Leo & Madeline’s family of blessings.

As a father, I’ve been told he led by example and while he wasn’t known for rambling parental lectures, he knew what to say when you needed it and his few words were solid and true – even when he’d tell you to “get your nose out of the glass” when you took a drink at the dinner table.

As the war came to an end, Leo & Madeline found themselves in Gorin, MO publishing and printing the Gorin Argus covering Memphis and Gorin, now South Gorin in Scotland County, Missouri from 1890 – 1972 according to the Library of Congress. Madeline gathered the news and Leo ran the press along with good friends the Salsbury’s.

About 500 years after Gutenberg operated the first printing press on a loan and a prayer, In 1947 Leo & Madeline noted the sale of a printing business in Kankakee, IL the growing river town south of the big city. With a loan from Leo’s parents and I’m sure a few prayers they crossed the Mississippi River and purchased Burrill Printing Company est. 1913 on the corner of Court St. & Schylur Avenue on the second floor of the Kreske Building.

After moving the company to Harrison & Cypress Streets, Leo & Madeline built and operated Phillips Press, Inc. on South Seventh Avenue in 1958.

His honest work ethic and his frugality allowed the press to operate with Linotype, developed in the 19th century and able to create full lines of type rather than the slower movable type of Gutenberg, right up to the infancy of the digital age. Not unlike the time of Gutenberg, Leo witnessed tremendous changes in the world of printing. I’m sure in his heyday, Leo could hang a line with the best of them. A little Linotype jargon for being able to compose a new line of type before the previous line was finished. He was an artisan of his trade with a knack for aligning text perfectly by hand. He was a good salesman who dealt honestly with his customers while upsizing your ad in the process. Leo retired from the press in 1979.

Leo, with Madeline alongside, joined Central Christian Church 66 years ago on April 4, 1948. Leo served our congregation generously with his time, talents and resources over the years. He served as an Elder and was awarded Elder Emeritus, the highest honor of our congregation, in 1990.

Leo served on the Congregational Board of which he was a former Chairman. He taught Sunday School including the Phylatheon Class of couples which met on Sunday mornings and for fellowship in the evenings.

He played catcher for the CCC softball team and operated the sound system on Oak Street. He was a member of the Christian Men’s Fellowship and State Secretary for the CMF of the Christian Church in IL/WI. A regular worship attendee until only three-four years ago when his health made it impossible, Leo made sure the bulletins and Challengers, our newsletters, were printed neatly and without cost to the church while he was active in the printing business. Leo loved his church and this church loved Leo & Madeline.

During retirement, Leo & Madeline enjoyed traveling and camping during the winters at Morning Side Travel Park in the valley in Texas where Leo helped with the sound system for worship in the Park Hall. Part work and part enjoyment, the duo also inspected and rated camp grounds in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the Trailer Life Publishing Company for 20 years.

As a community member and businessman, Leo was active in the Kankakee Boy Scout Committee, Kankakee Elks Lodge and the Salvation Army Board.

Leo was the oldest and longest serving member, and former President of the Kiwanis Club. He was made a Lifetime Honorary Member for 53 years of membership and service in May of 2012.

After eyesight and illness began making mobility difficult, Leo & Madeline moved to Heritage Village on Entrance in Kankakee and more recently to Our Lady of Victory in Bourbonnais. Whenever I or our Elders would visit with Leo & Madeline, the story was the same. God’s been good to us. We can’t complain. We’ve had a good life. We got to do things we wanted to do, see things we wanted to see. We’ve been blessed.

Now, I think that’s how we all hope our story’s final chapters will read.

Leo’s life story came to a close on Friday, January 24th now printed in the book of Life published by the author of all Life.

When I visited Leo last Friday afternoon just hours before Leo died, I watched Madeline taking care of her partner, friend and husband with gentleness and sweetness. Blessed.

They have shared in the great story of life and in time, resting in the promises of God in Jesus Christ, they and we will know eternal blessedness in the presence of our Loving Creator and Redeemer.

We came to worship here today to celebrate a full life of 97 years and to celebrate the victory of resurrection revealed in and through our Lord Jesus Christ – the victory of Jesus’ own resurrection, triumphant over death, and the victory of life everlasting given through the grace and love of God.

Truly today we must celebrate Leo’s victory of eternal life achieved; as Christians we come to proclaim our faith in the God of “living hope,” the God who promises victory for each and all of God’s children over the power of death.  Today, we remember and we seek strength in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of eternal peace, rest and life with our God.

We proclaim our faith in God who was birth in the stable in Bethlehem we have just celebrated. We believe in Jesus, God made flesh who dwelt among us, and who suffered and died on the cross.

We believe in the Good news: that God incarnate in Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and in so doing granted through God’s grace and love the victory of eternal life in the spirit to each and all.  We believe that Leo has died unto the grace of God, the same grace that will welcome each of us into God’s holy and peaceful presence when our day comes. We can put our trust in the everlasting arms of God who through Jesus Christ has made known to us the promise of eternal life.

We know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that He is preparing a place for us with God.  We have the promise of the scriptures of eternal life in this place.  This must be our hope as we live on after this day and as we too realize that we will not walk on this old earth forever ourselves.  May it be that as we continue on with our lives, that our faith is strengthened and our hope increased as we remember God’s promise to each one of us.

“Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give to you.”