Southwest of Helena-West Helena, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, sits the small town of Lake View, stretching along the banks of Old Town Lake. The rural community has a population of less than 600 people – and one of those people is leaving a lasting legacy with her tireless work in the community. Virgie Gant Phillips has been selected as an Arkansas Community Service Award honoree for her efforts to better the world around her.
“When you live in a community you notice things,” said Phillips. “If you’re walking around or just talking with others, you might discover there’s a great need somewhere.”
Discovering needs and filling them is what Phillips is famous for. She has been a driving force in many of the key projects in the Lake View community.
A native of West Helena, Phillips has called Lake View home for many decades, teaching at the local school before the district was consolidated into the Barton-Lexa School District, and Lake View School’s doors closed. But not for good. Phillips had seen many closed school buildings fall apart, becoming a dilapidated eyesore and a constant reminder to students and the community of what once was. She was determined not to let that happen to Lake View, so she and others led the fight to keep the home of the Dragons alive.
“We had to fight to hold on to that building,” she said. ” We wanted our building, (and) we wanted our artifacts.”
The efforts of Phillips and other supporters soon led to a state law being passed that allows vacant school buildings in consolidated school districts to be donated to a city for public use.
Now with a community building to use, Phillips organized teachers and volunteers who offered tutoring and workshops to its students who were adjusting to a new school in another town in order to keep them from falling behind. The building is now also used for serving free lunches during the summer, community exercise classes, and rented out for events.
“When you face challenges you have to be committed,” Phillips said. “You can’t just fall apart at the first little wind that blows against you.”
Phillips was also a key figure in the opening of a rural health clinic that serves the rural Phillips County communities of Lake View, Oneida, and Wabash.
“The problem that we found was that many of the people who needed to go to the doctor had to go at least 20 miles to seek help,” Phillips said.
Phillips mobilized volunteers to garner community support and begin the process of raising funds for the clinic, eventually making the progress needed in order to present to the state Finance Committee.
“Clinton was governor at the time,” Phillips recalled. “He and came out and said, ‘we want to do this.’ We were voted in. We got it. We able to go and talk to some other groups and one main thing they said about us is that we had pulled ourselves up by our own boot straps, and I guess they were telling the truth.”
The clinic opened and has been serving the area for three decades, and Phillips currently serves on its Board of Directors.
On a daily basis, Phillips continues her service with the Lake View Ladies’ Fire Auxiliary, which serves the city’s volunteer fire department, assists families who have lost their homes in fires, and pairs up with community organizations to fill needs such as feeding the hungry and providing school supplies for children. She is an active member of the Lake View Association of Alumni, continues to serve as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and organizes sleep apnea awareness and education efforts in memory of her late son, a doctor, who died in his sleep.