Phil Campbells bring spotlight to PC
PHIL CAMPBELL – Phil Campbells from literally all over the world descended on the town of Phil Campbell this past weekend for the much-anticipated “I’m With Phil” tornado relief event that brought tons of media attention on the tornado-ravaged town.
An impressive 19 Phils and one Phyllis Campbell attended the weekend’s festivities with several of them traveling from places like Australia, Scotland, the United Kingdom, Alaska and California.
Several local residents couldn’t imagine someone traveling from half a world away just to visit the small Franklin County town, but these people weren’t here to sight-see – they were here to work and bring relief to their adopted city.
The Phils worked Friday with the clean-up at the community center and many of them said this was the most rewarding experience of the trip.
“It felt good to finally dig our hands in and help,” said event organizer Phil Campbell from Brooklyn, N.Y., who came to be known as Brooklyn Phil. “The physical labor was definitely satisfying.”
Besides the physical labor on Friday, Brooklyn Phil has made phone call after phone call for the past several months in an effort to raise not only media awareness for the unique event but to raise money for a Habitat for Humanity home to be built in the devastated town.
All the Phils found out Saturday during a meeting with Art Pearce, executive director for the Alabama chapter of Habitat for Humanity, that they had reached their goal to get the ball rolling on a Habitat house in the town. When they heard the news, all the Phils raised their hands in the air and cheered.
“This is what it’s all about,” Brooklyn Phil said.
Brooklyn Phil told the crowd gathered on Saturday how his relationship with the town of Phil Campbell began that eventually led to the outpouring of support in the town’s biggest time of need.
“This all started when I was 22 when I was in college and I heard the people on ‘Hee Haw’ give a shout-out to Phil Campbell, Ala.,” Brooklyn Phil said. “It just became this obsession… and it lead to the Phil Campbell Convention in ’95.”
That year, Brookyln Phil organized an event that brought 22 Phils and one Phyllis Campbell who showed up to congregate in the town that bared their name. The event was just for fun and left such an impression on him that in January of this year, Brooklyn Phil started planning to try the concept again. Plans were steadily rolling for the June event when the tornadoes tore the town apart on April 27.
“When I got the call from Rita [Barton] the next morning saying the town had been wiped out, I couldn’t believe it,” Brooklyn Phil said. “At that point, we could have just not done anything – just said ‘Well, we can’t have it this year,’ but I really felt we had to step up and do something to help because the town had extended so much hospitality to us in the past.”
In the weeks following the tornado disaster, Brooklyn Phil brought media attention from around the world to the small town and other Phils already committed to come when it was still just a convention jumped on board to help as well.
Phil Campbell from Birmingham, or Birmingham Phil, did his part to help boost the morale by bringing along the Alabama Pipes and Drums, which is an organization he belongs to.
“We were already planning to bring the band when the event was still just a convention – before the tornado came,” Brooklyn Phil said. “When the storm hit, it was chaotic in Birmingham, but when we were watching the weather we saw this big red blob over Phil Campbell and knew it was bad.
“As soon as we were able to come out of our safe place, we found the footage that was filmed from inside Chief Potter’s car and we were so worried about the town.”
The weekend of events was the fifth time Birmingham Phil made the trip to Phil Campbell to help. Since he was only two hours away, he felt he should go ahead and lend a hand where he could by removing debris, cutting trees and cleaning up.
“It’s great to be here and see all these people,” Birmingham Phil said, “and it’s great to see all the Phils coming together.”
Phil Campbell from New South Wales, Australia, brought his whole family for the event he described as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“To start with, this trip was just like a bucket list thing – an experience I wanted to have,” Aussie Phil said, “but when the tornadoes came through, it became a lot more than that. It became this catalyst in the rebuilding process and we wanted to be a part of that.”
Many in the town were touched by all the Phils have done and plan to still do for them.
“We are blessed to have all these people come in and help us,” Mayor Jerry Mays said. “We will build Phil Campbell back afresh and anew.”