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Nick Sutton: Phil Erickson exuded 'Lombard spirit'

Nick Sutton
Special to The Register-Mail
In this file photo, long time Lombard coach Phil Erickson puts on his coaching shoes one more time as he coaches a group of former players against current players in the Erickson Gym Night Shootout. The event ended with the proclamation of the gym name as "Erickson Gymnasium." Erickson died Monday in Galesburg.

Everyone who enters public education wants to positively impact kids, but I think most educators realize after being in the field for a couple of years that you want to also create a legacy. A legacy that becomes a persona that travels throughout time, so that even though you may only have the privilege of interacting with students or select staff in a somewhat brief period of time, your impact becomes something that is not forgotten.  

I spent seven fantastic, enjoyable, and defining years of my life as an educator in Galesburg. Specifically, three of those years were as a teacher at Churchill Junior High, but then after leaving the area and coming back, I spent four years as the principal of Lombard Middle School. Trying to list all the "Galesburg Legends" I was able to spend time with and work with while in this community would be an overwhelming task. However, right away names like Steve Cheesman and Joey Range certainly come to mind. However, as I reflect upon my time at Lombard one name that will always come to mind is Phil Erickson, who died Monday in Galesburg at age 83.

The campus of Lombard has a history that is truly unlike any other school campus perhaps in our country. Having Lombard begin as a college in 1851 at the corner of Tompkins and Seminary, Notre Dame University playing on Lombard’s football field (which is now a playground) and even having a former Lombard College professor go on to become the founder of Stanford University are some of the significant facts that randomly come to mind. While the list of interesting and significant items related to the campus of Lombard is no small volume of facts, one of the individuals that now deserves to be recognized as a Lombard and Galesburg legend would be Phil Erickson. 

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While Galesburg, Illinois, is not my hometown, so many of my fondest memories and people I have crossed paths with are from this community. Being the principal of Lombard from 2014 to 2018, I had the opportunity to come across a lot of records and information pertinent to the history of the campus, and one I think is most related to the point I want to make is from the Lombard College Periodical in 1905 as it defines the ‘Lombard Spirit.’ 

“As intangible as a legend, is Lombard Spirit. Just what it is nobody knows, or when it comes, but that it is there, is certain. Everybody has it, from Freshman to Senior, from 'Dad' to 'Prexy,' graduates, neighbors, friends and all, everybody who knows Lombard recognizes Lombard Spirit. It makes them admire and almost worship the 'Lombard Elm,' makes the study for the work’s sake, cheer at a football game with the score against them and help one another over the rough places. That’s Lombard Spirit, and you’ll feel it right away, — after you’ve been here a very short time.  

Lombard Spirit is very contagious, and it takes, immediately. It is apparent on the campus, in athletics and in the classroom. The few who do not catch it, do not stay; the rest are happy because of it. Your success at Lombard will be due to Lombard Spirit.”  

Upon learning about Phil Erickson’s recent passing the quote above seemed connected as a way to describe not only the Lombard campus, but also the personality Phil Erickson had as it related to his impact. Phil Erickson was an exceptional coach and teacher to so many.

Then for the students I served while I was at Lombard, he was a retired teacher that would come to home games and attend pep assemblies being known as their “Lombard Grandpa.” It is this lifelong commitment and connection to the green and gold that sets him apart to me in so many ways. He exuded the above mentioned "Lombard Spirit." 

The community of Galesburg will always have exceptional individuals that impact peoples’ lives, and Phil Erickson was certainly one of those people.  

Nick Sutton is former principal at Lombard Middle School.