2013 Person of the Year Finalist
She’s the president and CEO of a local steel company, but that hasn’t stopped Andree Phillips from making a life of helping others as a community volunteer.
“One of the keys to who I am is that I’m a volunteer,” said Phillips, who heads Radiant Steel Products here. “I don’t know how to not volunteer.”
“Andree is one of those colorful characters in the community, one you can’t imagine not being there,” said Dave Fagerstrom, executive director of the River Valley Regional YMCA. “It’s a little brighter because of her.”
For nearly five decades, Phillips has been involved with the YMCA and is only the second woman to serve on its board of directors.
Fagerstrom described Phillips as “very driven.”
“She brings that passion and that drive to her volunteering at the Y,” he said. Her long history of involvement is invaluable, he said, as she provides insight and advice to board members on a regular basis.
She also helps with oversight of the YMCA’s endowment fund, another area in which her experience has been essential. When the YMCA was looking to put together a strategic plan for a new facility, Phillips was instrumental, Fagerstrom said.
“She helped direct the efforts for the capital campaign for the last two years. She’s done her fair share of fundraising,” he said. “She’s a great source of inspiration.”
Besides the YMCA, she’s been involved in local community theater from the beginning.
Phillips has had a lifelong interest in theater. When she was 5, her mother enrolled her in elocution lessons.
“All I knew was that you got to wear a costume and stand up in front of people and recite things, and I thought, ‘Well, this is fun!’ ” Phillips said.
Hooked, she acted in plays in high school and college until moving back to Williamsport, where her attention was needed for her family and young children. But that break only lasted for a while. In the late 1970s, Phillips was asked to act in a play that a friend had written, and her affinity for theater was rekindled.
“Andree was there from the very beginning,” said Peter DePasquale, a member of the board of directors of the Community Theater League.
DePasquale, like Phillips, is a founding member of the league. They wanted to have a community theater that was different, he said, one that was truly run by the members of the community it served.
Phillips was clear in her insistence on no membership or fees.
“We were business people, not theater people,” Phillips said. “We got together to start the theater and decided that if we couldn’t run it like a business, then we didn’t deserve to be in business.”
In 1976, Phillips, DePasquale and a few other individuals incorporated a community theater group, although it wasn’t called the Community Theater League yet. The first few years they performed in various places, including St. Boniface church, said DePasquale. Phillips was one of the pillars of the group while they searched for a more permanent home.
“Andree did so much work to coordinate things, like where to put sets and costumes … I think at one point her garage was where we stored our sets,” said DePasquale.
After several years on Washington Boulevard in a former Jehovah’s Witness church, the Community Theater League decided that it had outgrown the space and started looking for something bigger and better.
“We had a wonderful response from the Williamsport Foundation for the capital campaign for the downtown location,” DePasquale said. “Andree had a great deal to do with that.”
The Community Theater League moved to its downtown location in 1990, and Phillips continues to be one of the driving forces behind the plays, concerts and other events. She still serves as board president, a position she has had for nearly every year of its existence.
Another of her passions is education, something she’s been a part of since her children were young.
“Your kids go to school, you want to be involved with their education, or at least I did,” she said.
She stayed involved in her children’s education and then education in general. She became a chairwoman or committee member for the Pennsylvania Council for Vocational Education, an advisory committee to the governor and the state board of education.
She also became involved with the education committee of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.
“When I came, Andree was already an integral part of this organization and the community,” said Vince Matteo, president and CEO of the chamber since 2001, “but it was her vision to have a very active education committee.”
The education committee already existed, but Phillips worked to bring together educators and business people to prepare students for the workforce, especially technical education.
“She was instrumental in bringing together all the school districts to work together on a plethora of issues,” Matteo said.
She organized a program for school superintendents to take tours of local businesses and was the driving force behind the expansion of the Education Celebration, which honors local students, teachers, and business and education partnerships.
“She’s someone that I really lean on for advice,” Matteo said. “She should be an inspiration not only to young women, but to men as well, in the business community and the community at large.”
It’s easy to believe that Phillips’ schedule was too full to accommodate any other volunteer work – but she always found time for something else.
Not only did she take over her father’s business, Radiant Steel Products Co., which was started in 1927, she saved it from bankruptcy. Now, she’s been president there for 30 years.
“I’m a stick-with-it kind of person,” Phillips said. “If I believe in it, I’ll stick with it.”