It started simple enough. In his late 20s, Robert Phillips decided he wanted to get a couple of famous athletes to autograph their photograph so he could frame them and hang them on his living room wall. “My walls were pretty bare, says Phillips, I was just looking for something to put up there.”
Little did he know at the time, but his whim would grow into an obsession. Today, Phillips’ home is brimming with hundreds of autograph pictures covering every square inch of the wall space, floor to ceiling, in every room in his house.
“My first three autographs were Mike Tyson, Dan Marino and Archie Griffin,” says Phillips. “I arranged them in a triangle around the thermostat in the living room. They looked pretty good up there so I thought maybe I would try to get some more. I had no idea it would end up like this.”
Phillips, a huge fan of Ohio State, set his sights on targeting Buckeye athletes. Known as “Buckeye Bob” to his friends at work, he started to collect photos of OSU football players. “I played middle linebacker and the offensive line for Lima Senior High under coaches Barry Blackstone and Leonard Rush, so I was interested in getting football guys up on the wall,” he says. “When I got Orlando Pace to sign his picture, I decided to just get after it.” His collection eventually spread to include athletes in every sport.
Phillips often obtained the photos from the OSU athletic department and then drove down to Columbus to get the players’ autographs. “Ninety-eight percent of the autographs I got personally from the players, the rest I used the mail” says Phillips. “Sometimes I think I was spending more time down in Columbus getting those autographs then I was in Lima.”
When I first walked into Robert’s home, I was stunned by the enormity of his collection, then mesmerized by the many names on the wall. It took me more than a half hour to work my way out of the living room. His collection also sneaks up the steps and through the upstairs hallway.
When I finally made my way into the dining room I discovered a pleasant surprise.
Phillip’s collection has grown to include hundreds of our local high school athletes, in all sports, who have competed at the college level. He calls it his “Homie” section and it now encompasses three walls in the dining room and is spreading into the kitchen. “We have a lot of kids in this area who have gone on to play at the next level and it’s my way of honoring them,” says Phillips. “I contact their colleges, get an 8 by 10 glossy picture, get the athlete to autograph it, frame it and put them up in my ‘Homie’ section.”
His tribute to Lima area athletes began with two of his friends and teammates, William White (LSH/OSU) and William Howard (LSH/Tennessee), and grew from there. “I started adding other athletes that I remembered from when I was young like Lawrence Stubblefield (LCC/Southern Illinois), Brad Komminsk (Shawnee/Atlanta Braves) and Emzur Shurelds (LSH/BGSU),” he says. “I started to hear about athletes from older generations that I was not aware of and was able to get a photo and autograph for a lot of them too. I think most people don’t realize how many successful athletes have been produced over the years here in Lima. It’s been a real learning experience for me.”
His collection includes student-athletes from every generation and continues to grow. I found my picture in a corner of the dining room next to the Mauk twins, Stephanie and Rachel (Bath/IPFW) and Adam Stolly (LCC/Capital). Close by were some athletes from my generation: Dave Cheney (LSH/OSU), Dan Sadlier (LCC/Dayton) Randy Cooper (LSH/Purdue) and Jeff Miller (Shawnee/OSU).
His “Homie” collection now stretches back many decades and continues to grow with new additions, young and old. He recently added two athletes who competed in the late 1940s: Leonard Truex, a Central High School track star and Tom Williams, a St. Rose High School graduate who went on to captain Ohio State’s basketball squad. A walk around Phillips’ home is more than a stroll down memory lane, it’s a history lesson.
The collection has outgrown the space in Phillips’ home. “I have over a hundred autographed pictures that I just don’t have room to display,” says Phillips. I change them out every once in awhile so they all get time on the wall. I really appreciate the time all of these people took to help me out with this.”
Phillips’ also has a large file of pictures that he has yet to get autographed. “It’s tough to get a signature from people who now live out of town and when the younger ones are home on college break, they are busy with their friends and families,” he says.
When I asked Robert what his most cherished photograph was, he was quick with his reply. “I have a corner of the living room with photos dedicated to my five kids,” (three boys, two girls) he said. “They were athletes and cheerleaders for Lima Senior and Perry. I am so proud of every one of them. Those pictures are the most valuable things in my home,” he says.
Robert Phillips is more than a collector. He is an historian and keeper of the flame for the history of athletes in our community. The hundreds of autographed pictures lining his family home are a testament to his dedication to keeping the memories of our athletic heroes alive.
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.