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In to the Wind

February 20, 2013
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Sometimes it takes repeated episodes in our lives to remind us of our fallibility. Tragedy and death are the most convincing. The smell of death surrounds me.

In a manner of a few days, two of my friends passed away.

I met Rick Phillips in SW Florida, shortly after hurricane Charley wrecked havoc on the area. When the storm ripped roofs off of both the Sprint central offices, Charlotte County Government was left with no communications.

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I was working for Daystar communications at the time. We were providing an alternative to the incumbent phone company-Sprint. I was responsible for the communications towers we built to tie our network together. All of the towers made it through the storm. Most of the equipment survived too, except that one of the huge microwave dishes was no longer aligned. I called in my regular tower crew from Sarasota, and they soon had everything realigned.

It was at the Charlotte County Fairgrounds where I first met Rick Phillips. He was a wiry, fit man. Once he determined I was in charge of getting emergency communications going for the county, he tried his best to convince me I needed to hire him to work on the towers. I was pretty busy that day and tried to stay focused on the task at hand, but Rick was determined.

I went outside to take a break. Rick followed me out. There was this rather large pickup truck, with a high bumper parked in the lot. He positioned himself with his toes up on the bumper of that truck, and proceeded to do pushups. I don't remember how many, but it was many. He got my attention, not so much that I wanted to hire him, but the human oddity of it all had my attention.

Shortly after I went back inside, Rick showed up again. There was this huge palmetto bug climbing on the wall close to the workstation where I was making changes to an outside microwave radio. He grabbed the bug and held it in front of his face asking, "You want me to eat this, don't you?" I was midsentence telling him not to eat it when he stuck it in his mouth and crunched down on the bug. He chewed a few more times, opened his mouth to show me he had chewed it, and then swallowed.

If a fellow would go to such lengths to impress upon me he wanted to work, I thought I would give him a chance.

Rick performed regular maintenance and repairs on our towers from then on out. He was dependable, fast, and could do the work of three men. We also became good friends. I also gave him the nickname "Wildman." He was.

When I moved back to Iowa in 2005 and decided to start my own communications company here, Rick was one of the first calls I made. I told him to be on the lookout for a 180' tower. I told him it had to be a freestanding tower, because I didn't like the tall skinny guyed towers. It is a matter of aesthetics. I think guyed towers are ugly, while the freestanding ones are works of art.

Rick found me a used tower in Boston. He would disassemble it and stack it on a trailer. But first we had to build a foundation.

During the five hottest days of July, in 2005, we built a tower foundation. It took several local people helping to get the job done. The crew consisted of Rick, Mike Shope, Joe Shope, Jim Shope, Dave Gauthier, and Steve McAdoo. Those fellows toiled tirelessly as we laced 6000 pounds of steel together in a matrix, and then poured almost 60 yards of concrete.

In late September, after the foundation had cured adequately, Rick and his girlfriend Lisa dismantled the tower and laid it on a huge trailer. I flew out to Boston and met Rick and the trailer at the airport. It was my task to drive the trailer to Iowa.

It took a few days to assemble the tower. Rick and I did all of the work, as various spectators watched. It was incredible to see Rick climbing up and down the tower as it went into the air. Other climbers I had used in the past were only able to make one, possibly two trips up a 180 footer before they were exhausted. Besides having no fear, Rick was a tireless worker.

After the tower was finished, and Rick had a couple days to recuperate, we made the trip back to Boston. That was the last time I saw Rick. We talked on the phone many times after that, but did not get back together.

Rick Phillips died of a heart attack the other day. I lost a good friend, and a man I admired greatly. R.I.P. Rick "Wildman" Phillips. You will be missed.

This past weekend, another of my friends passed away.

John Pat Leavy, 58 of Marshalltown passed away on Saturday, February 16, 2013, at the Villa del Sol nursing home in Marshalltown.

Many will remember John as the man in the wheelchair you were apt to see at any location in Marshalltown. John was a longtime paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair. Actually, confined might not be a good word in this case, as John was rarely confined by anything.

Be sure to read my column next week. It will be written in memory of and as a tribute to him.

R.I.P. John Pat Leavy. You too will be missed.

Until next time-

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the "Local Columns" button.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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