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More than just 'a cop in Evansville'

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Ann Marie Ames
Gina Duwe
October 1, 2008
— School Board President Michael Pierick once asked Art Phillips if he ever considered leaving his position as lieutenant of the Evansville Police Department for a job with the sheriff's office or State Patrol.

"He said, 'Oh no, I just want to be a cop in Evansville," Pierick recalled him saying. "'If it didn't work out here, I don't know what I would have done.'"


Friends across Rock County are remembering Phillips today for his love of Evansville and his goal of making a difference wherever he went.


"He was so-well liked. If he had any enemies, they were certainly well hidden," Pierick said.


Phillips, 46, died Tuesday at his Evansville home from what family believe was a heart attack. Funeral arrangements are pending with Ward Funeral Home.


He served 5 1/2 years on the Evansville School Board and was appointed in January to the county board, then elected in spring.


Phillips started his service to the Evansville community in 1982 as a part-time police officer, joining the department full time in 1984. Promotions followed until achieving the rank of lieutenant—the department's second in command—in 1998.


Police Chief Scott McElroy worked side-by-side Phillips the last 22 years.


Each morning, Phillips would walk by McElroy's office, jokingly greeting him with a "Good morning, George" or "Good morning, Henry," as if he didn't remember McElroy's name, McElroy said.


"I'm still waiting for him to walk by my office," he said.


Losing not only a colleague but also a good friend, McElroy said this morning the shock still was too much to digest.


"Art did so much for the city, for the county," he said. "This is just a huge loss for all of us."


Phillips served as a firearms instructor for his department and was a previous instructor at the Blackhawk Technical College Police Academy.


His friendly face will be missed in the halls and offices of Rock County government, county staff and officials said this morning.


"He was a close friend. We worked with him daily," said Dave Sleeter, director of the Rock County Communications Center.


Sleeter said Phillips was a proactive supporter of public safety in the county. He was on the ad hoc advisory committee that explored and then set up the countywide 911 system in 1991, Sleeter said.


His death is "an immeasurable loss," Pierick said.


"Art was the classic small-town cop. He knew everybody," he said.


Phillips was born and raised in Evansville and was a natural as a police officer, his wife, Pat, said.


"He just loved working for the community," his wife said. "He tried to make a difference wherever he went."


He enjoyed his short time on the county board so much that he wanted to eventually move on to higher elected positions, his wife said.


Phillips' enthusiasm will be missed on the board, Supervisor Richard Ott said. Ott, former board chairman, appointed Phillips in January and later sat next to him as a supervisor.


"In the short time he held the position, Art loved serving on the county board," Ott said. "He hoped to do so for a long, long time. He was a quick study and a good student."


He loved attending meetings, friends said, and served on several committees, including the county board finance and a sub-committee of the criminal justice coordinating council.


He continued to find new ways to get involved, Ott said, such as joining groups supporting Carver-Roehl and Beckman Mill county parks.


But it was his down-to-earth, straightforwardness that left such a positive impact on people, friends said. His personality and willingness to help made him well-liked throughout the community, assistant Evansville EMS coordinator Kathy Buttchen said.


"He was just a great, wonderful person. Always willing to give his shirt off his back," she said.


When Tom Alisankus became municipal judge 18 years ago, Phillips was his first court officer.


"He was the 'go-to' person for many things, particularly in law enforcement," Alisankus said. "I respected his advice and counsel and sought it often."


County Administrator Craig Knutson said county employees enjoyed working with Phillips, who asked good questions and had great knowledge of how local government works.


"He understood county government and public safety services," Knutson said. "He had great insight into how those systems operated. He was obviously very involved in his community, and he was in local government for all the right reasons."



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