It was a little cool this afternoon
but Mary had chosen to stay outside the rest home just a little longer. She had
gotten word that morning that she was the last of the last two dozen. Who would
have thought? She had finished high school with 23 fellow students in a fine
school that had once held over 500. It was a exceptional school that boasted
the best of everything, thanks to Phillips Petroleum Company, but now it existed
only in her mind. She was the last owner of any memories concerning her
Phillips High School.
Mary’s senior year was somewhat spooky
as voices echoed through the nearly empty halls. It didn’t seem real. This was
a school that had seemed blessed in every way. It had a great sports program,
award winning music program and excellent education opportunities including
superior teachers. All this was bathed in a forgone past with no future.
Phillips Petroleum Company had created
what was called a camp town soon after a huge oil field was discovered there in
1926. The weather in the Texas Panhandle was extremely harsh, so much so that
the Indians who had previously lived there were vigorous and healthy as many
germs could not survive in this environment. Phillips needed many workers to
staff a large refinery being built in this area. To entice them Phillips
offered good pay, bargain housing, health care and a good education for their
children. And come the workers did. They were leaving hard scrabble farms and
unpredictable weather. The refinery needed them and they embraced the chance
for a better life.
As Phillips developed so did Phillips
High School. By 1947 the population of the camp town was 4,250. Instructors
were paid a premium wage and very quickly a sense of pride began to emerge.
Early on the motto surfaced. “Only Your Best Will Satisfy.” And giving their
best was what a majority of students embraced.
By 1961 PHS was soaring with over 100
in the senior class alone. But clouds were beginning to gather. Roy
Whittenburg, who owned the land where the homes were built had leased the
property to Phillips for 99 years to be used as home sites. However, upon Mr.
Whittenburg’s death, his already extremely wealthy heirs began to press
Phillips into shoving the residents off their property. The 1st action was to
sell the homes to the residents. No longer was it necessary to provide generous
incentives to workers as Phillips now had ample help. In the past when a worker
retired he had to move on but now he could stay put. This resulted in no new
blood coming into the town or the school. Those with foresight took flight,
including the winning football coach.
Then in 1980 a killer explosion rocked
the refinery. Many homes were damaged and Phillips paid the bill for all
repairs. But this incident destroyed any harmony that had previously existed
between the Company and the residents. Little by little all infrastructure
support was withdrawn. Enrollment began to decline and then Phillips simply
told residents to move out, 99 year lease or no. The former supporters of the
camp town were retired or had no voice. They had probably been replaced by
Harvard MBA types who considered profits more important than a mother’s love. So
died a thriving and proud community and with it a school that is now only an
almost empty office building. No laughter, no music, no cheering, no sheer joy,
no Friday night dances, no proms, no teams, no senior trips, no Dixon Creek, no
Churches, nothing. It’s like everything good was in a water bucket and it was
poured into Dixon Creek sand where it quickly vanished.
Phillips Petroleum Company has always
taken the lion’s share of the blame for the destruction of the town of
Phillips. While complicit, a large part of the credit must go to the
Whittenburg heirs. The book about them is called The Bone Pickers, and
later released as The Midas Touch. I hope they needed that land
awfully bad. What a shame. What a damn shame.
Mary was feeling very tired now. She
leaned back her head and a few tears wet her cheeks. She was the last of the
last two dozen. She would rest now. As she drifted away the blanket slipped
from her body. It was orange and black.
By: Wayne Hickman PHS '60