Phils still supporting their namesake town two years later
PHIL CAMPBELL – A person’s name can mean many different things, but for the group of people who share the name “Phil Campbell” with a small town in Franklin County, that name has meant a place in a brotherhood that has created lasting bonds between each Phil and the members of their namesake town.
The group of 19 Phils and one female Phyl Campbell came from literally all over the world to attend the 2011 Phil Campbell Hoedown Festival just weeks after the devastating EF-5 tornado ripped through the community.
The group had actually been planning since January of that year to hold a convention in the town with as many people with derivatives of the name “Phil Campbell” as they could find.
But when the tornado wrought severe devastation and destruction on the small Northwest Alabama town, the scope of the gathering changed from a whimsical, fun gathering to a tornado relief effort to aid the people of their adopted hometown.
Efforts were organized by Brooklyn, N.Y. resident Phil Campbell, also known as Brooklyn Phil, who arranged for the group to help with cleanup projects and organized a fundraising site to raise money for a Habitat for Humanity home to be built for a local family in need.
After a weekend of cleaning up, getting to know the people of the town that shared their name, and getting to know one another, the Phils formed a bond that has remained strong over the past two years.
This past weekend, Phil Campbell from Birmingham, also know as Birmingham Phil, and Phil Campbell from La Farge, Wis., affectionately known as Big Phil, both came in for the annual Phil Campbell Hoedown Festival.
Birmingham Phil said he and his wife, Sherri, also came to the festival last year and still keep in touch with several people from the town as well as many of the Phils.
“I live closer than most of the other Phils so I get to come back here and visit a little more often and it’s great to have a mini-reunion and see all the people of Phil Campbell,” Birmingham Phil said.
“These people just reached out to us and were so appreciative of us being here and supporting the town, and we’re glad to continue to support the town and its efforts to rebuild.”
Birmingham Phil said it’s great to see progress in the town like the new park and the construction taking place at the site of the new high school.
“They are really working hard here to rebuild their town and make it an even better place,” Birmingham Phil said. “It’s great to see that kind of progress and that same determined spirit they all had when we first came here in 2011.”
Big Phil played an important part in the cleanup process in 2011 and actually stayed for an entire week to help the town. His selfless spirit and jolly personality made him one of the more well-known Phils of the group, even though he preferred to stay out of the spotlight.
Several months after the group went back to their own hometowns, local filmmaker Andrew Reed, who was working on a documentary about the “I’m with Phil” gathering, found out that Big Phil’s wife, Deb, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and they were struggling with the expenses associated with her treatment.
Once other members of the town found out that the virtual stranger from Wisconsin who had given of his time and resources to help their town was now in need, they didn’t hesitate in finding a way to help him.
Reed organized a screening of his documentary in June 2012 and donations were taken up that were taken personally to La Farge, Wis., by a group of Phils and Phil Campbell residents.
Big Phil said he made the trek this past weekend all the way from La Farge, Wis., with his brother, Stan, so he could see the people of Phil Campbell and personally thank them for being so kind to him during the illness and death of his wife.
“I just appreciated each person who was a part of those efforts to help me and my family,” Big Phil said.
“I really wanted to be able to thank everyone and let them know how much it meant to me.
“I have made some wonderful friends in this town and amongst the Phils, and I am glad to have the opportunity to come back here and see all these friendly faces.
“The people of this town are just wonderful and it’s good to be back here. It feels a lot like home.”
Rita Barton, who serves as the town’s park and recreation director and organizer of the Hoedown Festival, said she became close with the whole group of Phils when they were organizing their first trip in 2011 and she appreciates their continued support of the town.
“I think it is truly remarkable that they love our little town,” Barton said. “It seems that they want to keep coming back, not only to the town, but they have all made some amazing friends, and I feel like they are part of our family now and we love them like our own.”
Many of the Phils live too far to make the trip to Phil Campbell for each year’s festival, but Barton said they are welcome in the town anytime.
“When they are ready, we’ll be ready,” Barton said. “Our arms will be open wide anytime.”