Area father-daughter duo follow dreams

Roderick Phillips and his wife, Deb, spent most of their lives in Hughesville, but in the early 1970s, they bought an old farmhouse on 100 acres in Rose Valley. They didn’t farm, but Phillips enjoyed exploring, mowing and trimming the fields – and working on his inventions. Deb was an artist. They both enjoyed being somewhat isolated.

Phillips had been employed by Sylvania when flashcubes and flipflashes were a large part of the operation. Many of his suggestions for improvement of the processes were put to use at the Montoursville plant, where he received awards and monetary compensations. When Sylvania closed, he began work at Conagra as an industrial electrician.

This proved a good move for him. “I learned a lot and was also able to use the facilities to work on my ideas,” he said.

“As a kid, I was always taking things apart to see how they worked,” he said. “I was around 5, and I remember my grandmother Phillips scolding me because I tore her ballpoint pen apart; I wanted to see how the ink got through there.” He recalled that locks really fascinated him. And timers, flowmeters, anything he could tear apart.

Phillips grandfather, Virgil Broam, had a machine shop in Hughesville. Phillips spent hours there dissembling and building. “Grandfather Broam always made me draw what I wanted to build before he’d let me use materials or machines. That was a good thing – it’s a pattern I’ve followed through all my inventions,” he said.

Phillips daughter Stephanie Phillips-Taggart recalled some of her father’s early inventions:

A mattress inflator – before there were any on the market, using a 12 volt hair dryer, electrical tape and a Gatorade bottle, plugged into a car lighter.

A 32-foot windmill – “Mom and I pulled up to our house and saw lights flickering in the kitchen and thought, ‘What’s Dad up to now?’ We went inside, the lights dimmed a couple more times, then came on full blast, powered by Dad’s windmill! That was before anyone had ever heard about wind farms,” Phillips-Taggart said.

Phillips-Taggart was born in 1975. In 1976, the family was living at the farm when Deb was diagnosed with leukemia. “Treatments weren’t available then like they are today; the doctors as much as said it was a death sentence,” Phillips said.

Because of the remoteness of Rose Valley and the frequent need for medical attention, the family moved back to Hughesville. In 1980, they traveled to UCLA Medical Center in California, where a bone marrow transplant was performed. Deb was the second person ever to survive the operation.

In 2001, due to a disorder that developed after the transplant, Deb needed a new liver. This transplant was successfully performed at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Deb developed lung problems in 2006. Taggart-Phillips was home with her third child and spent portions of every day caring for her mother. Deb continued to deteriorate, and by 2009, was unable to walk or care for herself.

“I would go over every morning to help her start her day,” Phillips-Taggart said. “Early one morning, I was feeding the baby and I heard a voice – yes, that’s what I have to call it – telling me to go check on my mom. It was much earlier than I usually went over, so I let it go. Within minutes, my phone rang – it was Mom, but she didn’t say anything. I grabbed the baby and ran over there. I’ll never forget how I felt when I saw Mom was unconscious. She must have known something was happening and called me, but couldn’t speak by that time. I vowed to never again ignore ‘that voice.’ ” Her mother died two days later.

In her final letter to her husband, Deb encouraged Phillips to keep inventing. “I know you’re going to hit the big one,” she wrote. That same year, when Phillips-Taggart walked into her dad’s kitchen and saw his Tablet hanging under a cupboard, she immediately envisioned the possibilities – recipes at eye level, movies while working in the kitchen, keeping an eye on the news. Her mind began whirling. “This is it, Dad. This is the big one,” she said.

The big one is a Portable Tablet Mount with Phillips’ patented Easy Latch System.

It took some time to develop the product, but in 2013, together with Matt Fidler, Phillips and Phillips-Taggart founded Upper Desk Inc. Fidler is the CEO of Upper Desk, and Phillips-Taggart serves as president.

The Portable Table Mount has won three industry awards: 2014 National Hardware Show Gold Award for innovation, 2014 International Housewares Association Innovation Finalist Award and Bucknell University’s SBDC New Product Development Award, 2014.

As of this month, the Portable Tablet Mount is available at 300 select Sam’s Club locations, at Samsclub.com and online at www.upperdesk.com.

“We’re very grateful for the support we’ve gotten from Bucknell University’s SBDC, Innovative Manufacturing Center, Williamsport Inventor’s Club, and Matt Fidler. Their help was priceless to us,” Phillips said.

“It’s been a real roller coaster ride,” Phillips-Taggart said.

“Riding high one day and smashed on the bottom the next,” Phillips said, smiling. “You can’t give up.”