When old friend Jay Smoke learned that we were moving to Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in 2007, to follow the grandchildren, he said, “Oh, Marilyn Phillips.”
That was really the only necessary thing to say about Iron Mountain, and its sister city, Kingsford. The spirit of Marilyn Phillips was everywhere.
By everywhere, I don’t mean just Iron Mountain and Kingsford. It was in Bolivia and Chile and Detroit and Spirit Lake in North Dakota. The first time Jay saw Marilyn, hammer in hand, was on a mission trip to South America. He says, “The last time I saw her, she was on a ladder, with a hammer in her hand, fixing up a house in the inner-city of Milwaukee.”
Marilyn had a passion for helping people, any place, every place.
She was no plaster saint. She knew how to do things, and she was willing to tell you how to do them, whether you wanted that advice or not. But real saints have fault lines, and those are how we recognize them, and realize how precious they are.
She had a family. She had a career as a teacher. She was a gymnastics coach who took her little out-of-the-way Kingsford girls down to Ann Arbor and won a state title. But after raising the family and doing the teaching, her time was spent in mission.
And art. She founded an artist consortium. Because of her, we had a little artist colony, right there in the UP.
And Santa’s lap. We started looking for Marilyn as soon as we moved to Iron Mountain, to tell her Jay had sent his love, but she was hard to find. She was always away on some mission trip. But finally, one Sunday morning after church, we asked someone, probably Scott Ritsma, in the fellowship hall, if Marilyn were present. “Oh, yes. That’s her, on Santa’s lap.” She was probably asking for a new hammer.
Appropriately, last Sunday morning, with Santa soon to arrive, Marilyn transferred from the church in mission to the church triumphant, the ultimate mission trip.