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For Phil: Celebrating the Life of an FMTS Legend

by Tim Burkhardt, staff writer

If you worked for FMTS, Phil Hanbach was a huge presence. He was a giant of a man, and took on the most herculean of tasks. He was never afraid to get dirty or hurt; he just did the job.

Once, he was replacing the bathroom floor in one of the Schafers. The more tiles he removed, the more rotted wood he found. He kept removing flooring, the tiles, even the shower floor itself, until there was a six foot hole that led clear through to the basement. The job was only supposed to take a day, but it took almost a week. Phil never complained. He stayed late, after the rest of carpentry had long called it quits, and he started again early the next morning. Phil was determined to get the job done, the right way, every time.

Earlier this year, Phil was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. He spent those weeks with his family, and died just before the end of the term.

Phil Hanbach loved Warren Wilson, the campus, the students, and the Carpentry Crew. Some of the students that worked with him (myself included) have written tributes to the best contractor and the nicest guy ever to repair a building.

Annie Pryor Remembers Phil Hanbach

Phil Hanbach puttered around campus. You may have seen him around here–six-foot-something, wearing a ball cap. He was always fixing the things we broke; the man was always gluing tile, replacing the sub-flooring, hanging up cabinets. Walking down the admission stairs for my 8 a.m. shift at FMTS, I’d see him driving to work almost every morning.

This tall man had a large hunch in his shoulders, always stooping down to tidy up someone else’s mess. The passenger window of his white contractor van was busted out. I watched him ride by for months thinking about how he always made time to fix our windows, but rarely had the time to fix things for himself.

Phil was a teacher. He was the first person to take me seriously. He was the first person to show me how a hammer drill worked; he was the first person to let me near one. He taught me the difference between a masonry bit and a wood bit. He taught me how to set up my saw blade, rip wood safely, and maintain a healthy respect for the saw. He taught me how to lay VCT tile. He taught me not to be afraid of learning.

Phil was a talker. I remember working on Carpentry and listening to him jaw with Norm over the morning brew. He told so many stories about this campus, and the many people he’d seen walk through it.

Phil was an Owl; he graduated here. He played basketball here. Hell, he still went to just about every basketball game there was to go to. When our basketball players didn’t have fans, Phil was there.

But above all, Phil was a humble man. In fact, I’ll bet half of you never knew that Phil touched every building on campus. He worked long night shifts, when we were out studying, sleeping and partying. He worked on his hands and knees, fixing all of our mistakes. And, again, I’ll wager most of you wouldn’t even know his name. But, you see, Phil wouldn’t even mind that.

His motto to life was always: “Ours is not the reason why. Ours is but to do or die.”

Phil Hanbach died in late February of 2012.

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