Hillsdale College ded­i­cated a bust to
former college pres­ident J. Donald Phillips. Allison Schuster | Collegian

Hillsdale College would not be the same without the con­tri­bu­tions of former College Pres­ident J. Donald Phillips, Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry P. Arnn said Tuesday. 

At the ded­i­cation of the bust of Phillips, created by alumnus and sculptor Isaac Dell ’18, several spoke of Phillips’ immense con­tri­bution to the college, specif­i­cally how those con­tri­bu­tions still benefit stu­dents today. Two of Phillips’ sons, as well as the chairman of the board of trustees, William J. Brodbeck, and a member of the board of trustees, S. Gunnar Klarr, recounted mem­ories of working with Phillips. 

Arnn said when Phillips took over as pres­ident in 1951, he stepped in at a tur­bulent time. The college had expe­ri­enced 50 years of turmoil with two world wars and the Great Depression.

“They saved the college. It wasn’t rich when they fin­ished. It was alive, and it was better,” Arnn said. “And it was reminding itself of why it existed, which is the con­dition of people sac­ri­ficing to keep it going. It was a college then just like the nation. It was founded according to a perfect prin­ciple, which of course per­fection can never be fully realized.”

According to Arnn, Phillips serves as a reminder and source of guidance for the college in the struggles it faces today. Phillips’ story can be used to inspire future gen­er­a­tions and encourage them to emulate his pursuits. 

“Hillsdale College has gotten through this mess so far,” Arnn said “And just think how long ago it began. It began when J. Donald Phillips came here.”

Brodbeck, a col­league of Phillips, said his tena­cious com­mitment to free enter­prise during a time when federal control of edu­cation was growing made a mon­u­mental impact on the college’s future. In the early 1960s, when the sec­retary of edu­cation deter­mined that if stu­dents received federal aid to enroll in insti­tu­tions of higher edu­cation they had to comply with federal edu­cation reg­u­la­tions, Phillips and his col­leagues led the way to reject the aid and maintain the college’s financial inde­pen­dence, according to Brodbeck. Other col­leges fol­lowed suit.

“That res­o­lution is a phe­nom­e­nally important part of this college, it’s part of our DNA, and was a very, very important,” Brodbeck said. “I would never belittle all that Larry Arnn, and his folks have done here it is absolutely phe­nomenal, it almost defies belief that just over 20 years all that he has done he and they have done here hasn’t been accom­plished. I would point out that none of that would have been pos­sible if not for J. Donald Phillips saving the school back in the early ’50s.”

Beyond his work as college pres­ident, Phillips inspired his sons as a father and out­doorsman. Among stories of growing up at Broadlawn and heading up North to fish on family vaca­tions, Jim and Scott Phillips described from their familial per­spective how Phillips impacted so many lives. 

“He was just a phe­nomenal guy,” he said. “I think one of his favorite things during the week was taking, he knows who took care of this couch, outside the grounds. He went down to the main­te­nance department with doughnuts every Friday morning, and he talked with them about their life, about hunting, about every­thing. And I think that says a lot about him. 

James Phillips described his view of the college’s pursuit of freedom while his father served as pres­ident and its con­nection to today. His memory told how Phillips paved the way for the future out­reach of the college. 

“I think it really helped the college here being with the mar­keting person and working with orga­ni­za­tions of all sides, all over the country and so on, was this idea about getting Hillsdale con­nected to free enter­prise,” James Phillips said. “These folks know the story about being inde­pendent, and they applauded it. And I can’t believe how well, Larry, you guys have taken this niche of con­necting with this inde­pen­dence across this country you’ve done such a beau­tiful job that I know my father very softly proud of what you’ve done.”