Feb. 14, 1926 - Feb. 6, 2021
MISHAWAKA, IN -
Phyllis Miller Lawrence passed away in Indianapolis on Feb. 6, eight days shy of her 95th birthday. She was born in Cicero, Illinois, to Joseph and Gertrude Kistner Miller on Valentine's Day, 1926. Her family lived throughout the Midwest before settling in Davenport, Iowa, where Phyllis graduated from Central High School.
She graduated from Grinnell College in 1948 and returned to Davenport. She worked as a welfare caseworker for what is now the Scott County (Iowa) Human Services Department. Her interest in labor and civil rights led her to meet her future husband, Michael Lawrence, at a class on social issues at St. Ambrose College (now University) conducted by Fr. William O'Connor. Along with O'Connor they established the League for Social Justice, which in the late 1940s and early ‘50s documented racism in the Quad Cities area, led actions to integrate facilities, and built housing in impoverished areas. On Valentine's Day 1952 Michael and Phyllis married, and shortly thereafter moved to Mishawaka, Indiana, where they had found work. Phyllis was a caseworker for the South Bend office of what is now the Division of Family Resources. She left there in 1953 as she and her husband began to raise a family. She returned to the workforce in the early 1970s and for the next 20 years was at the Indiana University South Bend library. She cemented warm and enduring friendships with her colleagues and commuted to work on her bicycle down Vine Street, weather permitting.
Phyllis was active in the St. Joseph County area social justice movement and was a congregant at Broadway Christian Parish. She played a part in preserving the Mishawaka Mary Phillips building, which was closed as an elementary school (all four of her children went there) and at risk of being demolished before area residents intervened. It is now affordable senior housing. Her husband Michael died in 1998, and Phyllis left Mishawaka in 2008 for Bethesda, Maryland before settling in Indianapolis.
Phyllis committed her life to her four children: daughters Katherine Lawrence of Bethesda, and Margaret Banning (Don Banning) of Indianapolis; and sons, Joseph (Charleen Heidt) of Ithaca, New York and John of Bronx, New York. She has one grandchild, Amelia Easley of Santa Clara, California, where she is a senior at Santa Clara University.
The family is planning a memorial service for Phyllis later this year. Contributions in her memory may be made to Broadway Christian Parish, 1412 Carroll St., South Bend, IN 46613 (https://www.broadwaychristianparish.org/
) or Faith in Indiana-St. Joseph County, https://faithinindiana.org/who-we-are/chapters/stjoecounty/