By Mike Maloney and Maureen Sullivan

Several events converged to create the world in which Phyllis grew up, grew strong, survived, got an education and became a leader and advocate for her people.  One was the Great Appalachian Migration which caused seven million people to leave Appalachia and the Upland South to flood into the towns, cities, and villages of Ohio and other midwestern and northern states.  The Great Migration was just about coming to an end when Phyllis was born in 1959 in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine.

Another event that occurred in 1959 was Ernie Mynatt came to Over-the-Rhine and began his long career of service to his people here.  That work included recruiting outsiders such as Mike Maloney, Maureen Sullivan, Phil Obermiller, Michael Henson, Pauletta Hansel, and others to join his work, showing them new ways to serve and ways to involve Over-the-Rhine people in the work.  We organized the Main Street Bible Center, Hub Services, GED Centers, and the Appalachian Identity Center.  The network of centers expanded to include Lower Price Hill, East Price Hill, South Fairmount, Camp Washington, East End and Northside.

Phyllis was a leader and caregiver in her own family, in the network of people who became part of UAC staff with Maureen Sullivan, Phyllis, Larry Redden, Nancy Laird, Cheryl Hodge and others shown in the attached photo.  We need to make sure their work is always remembered and continued.  Maureen shares the following story as part of remembering.

“I am not sure that I remember where I really met Phyllis for the first time – her reputation, even as a teenager, was already a legend. She was the girl from 14th and Clay who was a top student at Taft High School, earning straight A’s. She was the teen falsely accused of theft that the community came together behind to prove her innocence. She was a founding member of the Billy Club, started with Tommie Miller at the Urban Appalachian Council and she was the young woman, helping to write a paper with Larry Redden and Frannie Mullins documenting the issues faced day in and day out by Appalachian youth in the inner-city neighborhoods of Cincinnati that was to be presented at one of the early Appalachian Studies Association conferences.

“Phyllis did not have an easy life, but she always made reaching out appear natural and effortless. After high school, she went on to U.C., choosing to major in Criminal Justice, likely because her own and her neighbors’ experiences had underlined the critical need for justice, which was truly blind – to disparities of income, ethnicity, and race. And perhaps because, even then, she wanted to go on to earn a law degree, which she eventually did.

“Phyllis worked her whole life – through all her years of schooling, when she was a young mother, helping her family and friends. And through many of those years, we worked together at the Urban Appalachian Council. There is no area where she did not excel. She did not just listen to people’s troubles; she helped them do something about them. Because of the high drop-out rate of urban Appalachians in Over-The-Rhine, we started a GED / Adult Ed program at the Identity Center on Walnut Street when she was the Director. Because some of the young mothers who needed a GED could not come since they had little children, she started a childcare room for them while the mothers were in class. Before long, they also had a nutrition class which not only focused on healthy recipes, but which prepared food at lunchtime, making sure that bodies as well as minds were getting the nourishment they needed.

“In my mind and heart, Phyllis will always be the beautiful, intelligent, strong, and caring person who with ease constantly made taking care of others a priority. Her example and life are testimony to the power of love. It is up to us to each do our part to fill the gap.

“While we mourn her passing, I hope we can honor her life by following her example – to listen without prejudice or judgement, to give without counting the cost; and to respond to those in need with a full and loving heart.”

3 thoughts on “Phyllis S. Shelton Eulogy

  1. I was a friend of Phyllis before I was working at UAC. Phyllis said Debbie come and work with me. UAC had expanded to 3515 Warsaw Ave in East Price Hill and I started working with Phyllis September 11, 1989. I loved her devotion to helping as many folks as she could and being a resource to everyone who needed help. I was struggling myself and I didn’t have a Christmas tree for my children and she teamed up with Target and Phyllis had me go pick up the Christmas tree! Not only did I get the tree but I also got all the ornaments on the tree. Target took their tree that was fully decorated on their floor, wrapped it up and gave it too me! Phyllis will forever live on through her love for people.

  2. Thanks for your beautiful testimony about Phyllis Shelton. She was a beautiful human being who put her heart in to every thing she did. She served on Peaslee Neighborhood Center’s board for several years and always worked to seek justice for her people. You are so right, she spread her love wide and it made a big difference. Thank you Phyllis for showing us the way.

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