Remembering Phil Mallory: Culver teacher, community servant, and man of faith

EDITOR'S NOTE: When Phil Mallory passed away July 3, Culver lost a resident who had not only served generations of Culver Academies students as a teacher, but also served the community at large in a wide variety of roles. What follows is the text of a eulogy read by Ed Pinder of Culver at Mallory's funeral at the Wesley United Methodist Church July 6.

Phillip K. Mallory was born the day after Christmas, 1936. It was a fact his mother, who labored all of Christmas day and night that year, never let him forget! He grew up in Mattoon, Illinois, a small town not unlike Culver. His family knew, and was known, by everyone. He had two younger brothers; Doug, who preceded him in death, and Michael. Phil lost his father when he was just 13. In the years that followed, Michael notes that Phil took on a role greater than that of just a brother. Phil found creative ways to help shape the boys into the men they would become, providing an almost fatherly role model.

Following high school, Phil enlisted in the Navy. His time in the service afforded him the opportunity to continue his education on the GI Bill. He attended Purdue University where, in addition to majoring in Physics and Mathematics, he met and married Kay, a beautiful preacher’s daughter. On the morning of the wedding, Phil sat for a final exam in Russian, which he failed miserably. Kay noted that the only “rushin’” he accomplished that day was to the bakery to pick up the wedding cake!

He did manage to graduate, however, and soon landed his first teaching position at Lafayette Jefferson High School. During that time, the family expanded to include two children, Kevin and Kris. He taught in Lafayette until 1968, when he received an offer from a place called Culver Military Academy. He and Kay visited, fell in love with this quaint little town, and have made it their home ever since.

Over the course of his career, Phil received many awards and commendations. He served as the head of the science department at Culver. He was thrice named Physics Teacher of the Year by the American Association of Physics Teachers. He received the prestigious Kaser Award, which is awarded by Culver Military Academy for outstanding leadership in the classroom and the ability to inspire in students the zest for learning.

Phil retired from teaching in 2001, after educating an estimated 4000-plus students. It is worth noting that Phil had an outstanding retirement dinner provided by one of Culver’s premier families in their fine culinary establishment!

Not many of us can say that we love what we do for a living, but Phil was among those elite who can. Teaching and learning were two of the greatest joys in Phil’s life. It was his mission to instill his love of learning into his students. He was a practitioner of “hands on” learning long before it became a methodology.

One particular year saw a contest in which participants designed and executed a full scale, fully functional catapult. What finer display of physics than hurling a large projectile over a great distance? Except that none of them did. Most resembled those creations made by the infamous Warner Brothers inventor, Wile E. Coyote, with the projectiles being lodged firmly in the ground directly in front of them. The home team, on their initial attempt, managed to reduce their machine to its component parts. On national television. As Mike Wallace and “60 Minutes” looked on (it should be noted the relaying of these events is in no way an indictment of the competency of the CMA science department). It was a spectacular failure. But it was fun, the students (and Phil) were fully engaged, and they all learned from the experience (mostly that a test run might be wise before any cameras start rolling).

Phil never shied away from an educational experience merely because he knew nothing about it. He became CMA’s first ever canoe coach, having never actually paddled one. A potential team member approached Phil telling him, “Mr. Mallory, if you’ll just come to practice and act like the coach, we’ll do the rest.”

So he did. No doubt he read a book about it….

He was an avid reader. He could teach himself anything just by reading about it. When PC’s were in their infancy, he taught himself the DOS programmimng language. For those who might be technologically challenged—he taught himself to speak computer.

He had always wanted to build his own home and so he read. A lot. And he learned how to plumb. And heat. And lay floors. And build cabinets. And. And. And. Until one day he was moving his family into the house that Phil (and Kay) built.

He became as involved and engrossed in his hobbies as he did his career. The only worry he ever had about retirement was that he wouldn’t have enough time to do everything that he wanted. His interests were many and varied, from being a card carrying member of SPEBSQSA (that’s The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America) to model trains. He even spent an entire summer grinding and polishing mirrors in order to build his own telescope.

Then there were the cats -- his second set of children. Phil seemed to collect them like some people collect coins or stamps. His first family finds a small amount of solace that he passed before Kay, as they are fairly certain Phil would have become one of those crazy cat people you occasionally hear about on the evening news.

But anyone who knew him well knew that his most passionate pastime was the cultivation and hybridization of daylilies. In an interview, he was once asked what he might have done with his life had he not become an educator. He replied that he would have liked to become a horticulturist. His garden truly was one of his happiest places. If the dermatologist insisted that he needed to spend less time in the sun, well that just meant that he had to wear longer sleeves and get a floppier hat, until he resembled something that should have been driving camels across the Sahara. Nothing could keep him from his beloved garden. No doubt that his heaven is a vast sea of every daylily ever bred and he’s deciding which ones to cross next!

But however great his love for his students or his cats or his garden, his greatest love was reserved for his family and his God. He was an attentive son, bringing his widowed mother to Culver. Having her live close by provided her with security and companionship in her later years. If you ask either of his children, the most compelling evidence of their father’s love was that he got them both through high school algebra having never laid a hand on either of them. His devotion to Kay was evident throughout their 52 year marriage, but never more so than during the illness that followed her second battle with cancer. He remained steadfastly by her side through nearly three years of her impenetrable darkness, until gradually his love, support, and constancy brought her back into the light.

Whether or not it was consciously done, Phil’s life was one of service. He provided service to his country through his time in the Navy. His community saw him fill roles as an original and long standing participant in the Culver-Union Township EMS, and as a member of the library and school boards. He sat on the school board at a time when being a member could get you a rock through your window, but it needed to be done and he knew he could do it, so he did. His church family saw him as the Chair of the Administrative board, as a member of the Pastor Parish and Finance Committees, Sunday school teacher, and choir member. Phil’s intelligence, level headedness, and easy going manner made him a natural leader toward whom people would gravitate.

Phil would be the first to give the glory to God for allowing him to be the man he needed to be for so many people. Every life he touched came away for the better for having known him.

Phillip Kent Mallory was born in Mattoon, Illinois on December 26, 1936 to Jesse Frances and Genevieve Mallory, who preceded him in death. He was also preceded in death by an infant daughter and a younger brother, Douglas.

He is survived by his wife, Kay; son Kevin and his wife Andrea Mallory; daughter Kris Kronewitter and her fiancé Douglas Bernhardt; grandson Ryan Kronewitter; a brother, Michael and his wife Linda; sister in law Jane Mattern and her husband Gerrry; brother in law Jim Snell and his wife Wanda; and multiple nieces and nephews.