I was very young (22), green and a novice when I reluctantly stepped in to manage this small startup nonprofit for the ID/DD community. I knew very little about social service leadership at that time yet I am forever grateful that Phil Lendroth joined our cause. Phil brought knowledge, depth, stability, and validity to our mission. He strengthened our team and enhanced our services. He never marginalized me nor our young team; and he will always remain a part of the fabric and DNA of GIL.
Phil was a champion for my sister Doreen. Our relationship began 40 years ago when he and Donna came into our lives; they brought a level of hope and commitment strained when it came to supporting the intense disabilities that my sister has. My last conversation with Phil centered right where our relationship started, around my sister – once again Phil just trying to make sure that she was receiving appropriate clinical care, checking that my sister was okay as we just recently changed psychiatrists.
Phil was a behaviorist, a psychologist, a teacher, a trainer, a mentor, and an intellectual, but most of all he was a genuine guy. In my circle, we all saw Phil as a father. He adopted all of us. Phil was genuinely interested in people’s lives; always concerned; always had a sensitive ear to listen; always fair with everyone; and would always find a way to put a positive spin on things. We appreciated him, and he made every effort to demonstrate that he appreciated us.
I used to think that I started the staff appreciation program for GIL Foundation. In retrospect, it was Phil - from day-1, not a holiday went by without Phil figuring out some way to demonstrate support to our workers. Not a Christmas without Phil lining up flowers to each one of our female staff workers and treats for the guys (Liuzzi for me). He always knew how important it was to encourage the people on the front lines and he modeled it; and mentored me in that direction.
Phil did have one nemesis around GIL Foundation, it was called PRC - it stood for the state's Program Review Committee. A group of people, hired consultants in several different professional disciplines whose sole job was to dissect and “review” Phil’s programming. Their notorious recommendations over 25 years were the only times I ever saw Phil angry. It actually amused me. For Phil PRC was a Sanhedrin in a stained glass room coming up with reasons to point out the holes in his very thorough programming; yet never having real knowledge or relationship with any of the individuals that Phil knew so well, truly cared and served day to day. He despised the hypocrisy but he was the real thing. PRC was his Nemesis.
He loves his family and every time we got together there would always be touch points with Becki, with Philip, and with Donna - he loved them so and would often allow us a glimpse into this world. We followed Becki’s education and career path; Philip’s extreme sports and entrepreneurship, and both their paths to marriage; and Donna’s four decades of commitment and service to special education and to him. He cherished his family!
Phil contacted me about 12 months ago when he realized that he was not doing well and was unsure about the prognosis of this very rare disease. He had asked me if I would come and sit down with him and talk with him about God; he confessed that he did not necessarily give God a whole lot of time and attention through the years but in light of his circumstances he believed it was time to address that. Phil was smart. He always showed me and my faith a deep level of respect, occasionally asking me questions through the years but I would never preach or impose my convictions on him. He knew that my relationship with God was important to me. I assured Phil that it was all about relationship; and I believe in these last months as Phil lie in bed thinking and wondering considering eternity from a completely distinct vantage point, that he navigated his way to reconciling with God. He did not want to make a big thing out of it and did not want to bring too much attention to it – he just wanted to know what he needed to know. I gave him a booklet called Ultimate Questions to help him on that journey. It is concise but clear, and simply lays out a biblical foundation for relationship as opposed to religion. I believe that Phil gets that because he was a very relational guy à that Jesus, in his death and resurrection provides a way for all people to turn from sin and be reconciled to God for eternity - if we simply embrace this free gift of eternal life through a real relationship with Christ our Savior, we can experience peace with God!
A few final things about Phil I would like to highlight. If we had a one-hour meeting scheduled today, I understood that it would be a 2 1/2-hour meeting. I knew that if we were scheduled for 3pm it would start at 4:15p. I also realized that Phil would call me three or four times while I was waiting, in order to get some meeting time in while in route. His own time zone though never impacted the great value of his time which he brought to every meeting. And we had hundreds over 25-yrs w/ many people. He was a walking talking DSM-IV (V; VI) knowing so much about medication/behavior treatment and offering strategies, wisdom and insight, highly respected by others and central to every team discussion of care we served together on. When Phil arrived (a little late) the meeting elevated and seemed validated.
If there was ever a guy I wished could’ve enjoyed more years in retirement it would’ve been Phil. He worked very hard, long hours at multiple jobs; around the house; and serving his family. He devoted his entire career to serving those with disabilities. He was always willing to help, always willing to offer a suggestion, always willing to offer a recommendation, eager to research and look something up never giving less than 200% on any project I ever worked with him on. And, the data, the graphs, in EXCEL.
I will remember him as a self-proclaimed amateur plumber but also a master farmer. His gardening skills were world-class and were Guinness Book worthy, with all of his irrigation systems, and PVC apparatus running around the house and yard. Producing veggies that I would describe as from Land of the Lost:
Beets which are usually tennis ball size but his were like canon balls (size and weight)
Zucchini looked like watermelon
Took a half day to boil a beet; and one zucchini was good for a buffet
But seriously, he grew the very best (award winning) vegetables ever. We were always curious and a little skid-dish about his fertilizer technique; but we looked passed our conspiracy theories and forward to the annual vegetable deliveries. It was special. He was special! Everyone in my circles respected and enjoyed this very genuine guy; referring to him as “one of a kind”. I really loved and admired him. He was certainly a father figure for me and I was hoping for many more chats and Liuzzi grinders with him. Someday again, my dear friend. Godspeed Philip!