ARTHUR – Once, every small town around here had a lady, usually, who wrote weekly columns tracking the happenings in the community.
Phyllis Stock of Arthur became one of those correspondents more than 30 years ago, and few ever did it with more flair or talent – or fun.
Phyllis worked for The News-Gazette and The Courier, and for more than 30 years she wrote a "Town Talk" column for the Arthur Graphic Clarion. I first ran into her in the late 1970s when we were both correspondents at the Gazette, working for then-state editor John Foreman and his sidekick Tom Kacich. They sent us out to cover board meetings and patiently took our dictated stories over the phone. Phyllis and I met at correspondent meetings and formed a friendship based on a common interest in journalism.
But as I got to know her, she amazed me, and our friendship endured close to 30 years. A natural-born storyteller and entertainer, she was a hoot to be around. Not that she had a long line of jokes; she just lived life large and full. She brimmed with news about her daughters Marty and Sally and her son Kent, and her grandchildren and even all their friends, not to mention the high school chums and other friends that she and Bud acquired through their lifetime in Arthur.
Bud and Phyllis had a shoe store on Vine Street in Arthur, and it's likely as many people came in to swap stories with Bud and Phyllis as they did to buy shoes.
She could talk the Cubs, and I suspect she knew every boy and girl who ever played for the Arthur Knights. She worked tirelessly for years on the fair board, and had wonderful backstage stories about the country stars they brought in, like Johnny Cash. She performed in plays at the Sunshine Dinner Theater Playhouse; she sang, many say beautifully, in church for years, and she hammed it up in the seniors' kitchen band called the Arthritics.
Isabella Ringing was her stage name. (Put a question mark after the name and you'll get the joke.) I doubt she knew how to be bashful.
She worked at the Arthur Visitors Center professionally and did a lot of the legwork to build Arthur's reputation as an important tourist site. After retiring, even when her health was failing, she filled in when needed.
She worked for The News-Gazette these past few years as she could, writing feature stories about Arthur people. One of the last phone calls I got from her, she assured me that though she was in her bed at the Arthur Home, she had found me a story. Send a photographer down to get a picture of a pumpkin display on Vine Street, she said. "You just won't believe it. Even if you can't put it in the paper, I'm telling ya, you have to drive down here and see it for yourself." I did see it, and it was worth the drive.
But there wasn't much in Arthur that through her eyes was ever less than special or spectacular.
Years ago she painted little rocks and Christmas ornaments and sold them for a little extra money. She used black paint for silhouettes of horses and buggies against a pastel blue sky and red barns. I'd kept the ones she gave me, knowing they were the work of a woman with a genius. No, she was not Grandma Moses. But few, if any women, have ever had more of a natural talent for being a first-class lovable character.
"She would do anything for Arthur," said Theresa Binion, director of the Arthur Visitors Center. "And she's going to be greatly missed."
John Foreman, now the editor and publisher of The News-Gazette, kept in touch with Phyllis, too, through the years.
If he wrote a column she liked, he'd often hear from her. If he wrote one she didn't like, he'd hear from her too. He said it's hard to imagine a better ambassador for Arthur – or for any community – than Phyllis Stock.
"She had an irresistible attitude and an infectious enthusiasm for all things Arthur," Foreman said. "It manifested itself in The News-Gazette many times over the last three decades. I'll miss it – and her."