Helen Phillips Passes Away
The 86-year-old, half-century employee of the North Salem School District, who also served as recreation director in Southeast for more than 35 years, passed away last week at her home in Brewster with family by her side.
Phillips was born June 9, 1923, to Marie and Charles Schanze, of Danbury. She graduated from Danbury High School in 1941, where she was extremely active in sports and held three state championships on bugle.
Helen played in President Harry Truman’s inaugural parade in 1945. Later that year she married John Phillips and moved to Brewster, where she raised her family and started her career.
Under Helen’s leadership, Southeast’s recreational facilities expanded from one small playground to three large beaches with swimming facilities as well as programs in bowling, tennis, basketball, and gymnastics.
Helen was an institution in the North Salem District and molded the lives of many young residents of Southeast, Carmel, and North Salem during her 52-year tenure. She was initially employed as a school bus driver and later became a teacher’s aide and assistant to the vice principal.
Helen’s life-long companion Emily Watson remembered Sunday the delight Helen took in her job: “She cared deeply for all her children and took great pride in showing them respect while insisting that they always do the right thing.”
Watson remembered her friend’s “wonderful humor, resourcefulness, passion for good times, and unending love for everyone she met.”
North Salem High School Assistant Principal Dr. George Bovino of Kent recalled the dozens and dozens of students who “thanked Helen for getting them through high school and being there when they needed them most. She was the most incredible educator I have ever encountered—caring, concerned, whose love for children was evident every day.”
Karyn Piasecki, a member of the North Salem High School Class of 1986, called Phillips a “saint. Mrs. Phillips cheered for us, punished us and cried for us. She was a caring teacher who taught us responsibility, dedication and ethics. She taught us how to plan carefully as well as being aggressive but knowing when to be patient. I have been blessed to have been one of the thousands of students who Helen touched over her glorious career.”
Another former student, Sara Prout, remembered Phillips’ “no-excuse view on personal responsibility. She was tough as nails but full of solid love.”
Jane Kreisel attended the North Salem High School in the late 1970s: “Of all my teachers in school across the U.S. no one made such an impression on me than Helen Phillips. She always had my best intentions in mind.”
During commencement each June at North Salem High School, Helen always held a special place of honor and received thunderous applause from students, staff, and parents alike.
During an interview with this reporter in June 2006 upon her retirement, Phillips said she stayed around for so long because “I’m thrilled with kids. I love ‘em all, even the most challenging.”
Phillips loved to travel often, vacationing in Antigua with Watson. She also enjoyed gardening and loved animals.
Helen was predeceased by her husband. She is survived by three children— John and his wife, Pat, of San Diego, Pamela Phillips-Zeller, of Wingdale, and Kim Phillips Clark, of Pawling.
Helen is also survived by Emily Watson and grandchildren Robert, Jennifer, Michael, David, Sara, Matthew Kristin, and Jason. Five great-grandchildren also survive—Whitney, Ryan, Allie, Kyle, and Abigail.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday at 1pm at the Beecher Funeral Home in Brewster. Family will receive friends Friday at the funeral home from 4 to 8pm.
In lieu of flowers the family has requested donations be made to the Putnam County Humane Society or the Hospice of Putnam-Westchester.
During last July’s fire department parade in Brewster, Helen and Emily staked out their spot along the parade route an hour before the festivities began.
Helen called the parade the “highlight of the summer season. When I see these people marching, I feel like a kid again.”
Undoubtedly, Helen will be watching over many more parades from heaven, but here in Putnam County the “grand dame” will be greatly missed.”