Beverly Phillips, retired Math teacher and the Happy Birthday Singer, has dedicated her life to giving back to everyone she meets in the most meaningful of ways. Whether it is tutoring students in Math, or bringing a little happiness into someone’s special day with a song we all know and love, Phillips has shown what it really means to do your part to make the world a little brighter.
Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Phillips attended Emerson High School, where she was a member of the Girl’s Glee Club, the Girls’ Athletic Association, and even took accordion lessons. Her love of singing and music began there, and hasn’t faded away since.
“I get such happiness and joy and pleasure from making other people happy,” Phillips said. “I believe that I am one of Lord’s workers, putting my arms around his children and letting them know that they are loved and cared for.”
After graduating from high school, Phillips went on to continue her education at Purdue University, where she received a Bachelors of Science. She then made the move all the way out to Utah where she began studying at Utah State University, eventually earning her Masters degree in Math Education.
For two more years, she stayed out West and worked at Mt. Ogden Junior High as a Math teacher, until she decided to come back to her roots.
“I grew up in the area and my family was here,” Phillips explained. “I didn’t have any family out in Utah and all of my friends from over the years were here, so it was family and friends that brought me back.’
Phillips grew up as an only child and was incredibly close to her parents. She fondly remembers spending time with parents after her father worked long days at US Steel and how they would spend time at one of Indiana’s hidden gems.
“This was before air conditioning, and my dad worked at US Steel and when he came home, he would be overheated,” she explained. “My mother would have a picnic lunch packed and we would go out to Lake Michigan. We would have a little fire, lay around, and I would splash around in the water. I loved playing in the sand and listening to all of the people around and the waves. It was so peaceful.”
The Gary native missed those times with her family and friends, so she made the move back to Indiana. Phillips took a job at the Kankakee Valley School Corporation and for the next 30 years, taught Mathematics to Kankakee Valley students. However, teaching Math was the farthest thing on Phillips’s mind when she was younger.
“To be truthful, when I was younger, if anybody had told me that I was going to be a Math teacher, I would have rolled over on the floor with laughter,” Phillips explained. “I was barely a C student then. And then I took this test where they look to see if you can do Algebra, even though I didn’t even know what Algebra was. And then they told me that I can be in the Algebra class and they signed me up.”
Phillips’s view on Math changed drastically that year, thanks to a teacher who took the time to teach students who were struggling. From there, Phillips blossomed. She would help other students who were struggling and even became Mrs. Stewart’s assistant.
“I took Math all four years,” she explained. “I really have to thank Mrs. Stewart. She was a wonderful teacher.”
However, when she went on to college, Phillips went in a slightly different direction for a while.
“When I decided to go to Purdue, I went to the Purdue Calumet campus first,” Phillips said. “I stupidly tried to major in Pharmacy at first. I didn’t even have chemistry in high school, so I didn’t know what I was doing. And I’m glad that I didn’t go into Pharmacy because a couple years later, I had a roommate who was a Pharmacy major and I saw all of the words she had to memorize and I knew I would not be able to do that. So I ended up where I belonged.”
Phillips taught for 32 years before retiring. During that time, she worked hard to not only help students understand the subject matter, but she also worked hard to boost her students’ confidence in themselves, something she knew all too well.
“When that lightbulb goes off in your student’s head and they understand,” Phillips said. “I was not that great of student in my younger years, so I know what it’s like to not understand and to struggle in class. My goal isn’t always to just teach the Math; it’s also too teach them how to study and have confidence in themselves.”
While Math is incredibly important to Phillips, forging a bond through communication is more so.
“It’s going to sound strange coming from a Math teacher, but I believe that the most important subject you can teach to a student is Language Arts,” she explained. “Math is a close second, but no matter what you do in life, you have to communicate with people and the better you can communicate and understand what you’re reading… it’s very important.”
For the past 10 years, Phillips has taken that desire to connect and communicate with everyone and taken it a step further; what turned into a little hobby has turned into a job as the beloved Happy Birthday Singer.
“I sing to an estimated 4,200 people a year,” Phillips said. “My busiest day is April Fool’s Day, with 21 or 22 people I sing Happy Birthday to. And throughout the whole year, there are only 14 days that I don’t sing because there aren’t any birthdays those days.”
On average, Phillips sings to 10 people a day, using different voices and tones depending on the person. The message stays the same however, and at the end of her song, she adds little wishes of a full and happy life.
Her love of singing began all the way back in high school, but because of her shyness, she never tried out for the A Capella group at her high school. But in a desire to spread some happiness to everyone on their birthday, Phillips began what has turned into an annual and beloved tradition.
“It’s such a blessing to me,” Phillips said. “I have people tell me that they’ve been waiting all day or that no one else has called them. I have people compliment me on my voice, which I never thought was anything special. I even have some that even record me singing and keep it from year to year! It’s been such a blessing.”
While Phillips isn’t singing Happy Birthday to people on their special day, she is continuing her passion of teaching by tutoring students in need of some Math help. She also is in the process of creating an app. The app will be a math puzzle book; when you solve the multiplication problem, you begin to connect the dots on the page until a design, a maze, or a picture appears on the page.
Phillips has a lot of goals for the app, including teach students multiplication and other basic math problems and, to further attest to Phillips’ desire to give back, raise money for people in need.
“I have several family members and friends who are barely scrapping by,” Phillips explained. “There are some who are unable to do extra things like by propane for their barbecue or have big medical expenses. So that is what I would like to use my money for.”
Not many people can say that they have spent their life giving back to their community, but Beverly Phillips is one of those people. Her career as a Math teacher was fueled by a desire to teach students not just how to pass a test, but how to also feel confident about their abilities, while her passion for singing sprouted from a love of bringing happiness to a person’s day. Her day to day life is filled with wanting to do more for the people around her, and she doesn’t seem to be slowly down any time soon.