Author, PHS alumnus recounts history of Phillips

Luther James Kelly with his son, Loren Kelly, a 1969 Phillips High School graduate, standing next to the original Phillips Refinery in 1961. A recent photo of Loren Kelly.
Tim Howsare

Loren G. Kelly, a 1969 graduate of Phillips High School, will soon publish a book that highlights much of the history of the now abandoned oil town called, “Black Gold, Roughnecks and Oil Town Tales.”
“I’m a story teller of my tribe, and my story is worth telling,” is how Kelly describes himself.
In a phone interview with the Borger News-Herald, Kelly said he expects the book will be out in mid August.
He is publishing it through Amazon, where readers will be able to purchase it print-on-demand.
Kelly will be attending the Phillips High School reunion this weekend, where he is bringing a proof copy of the book and order forms.
Kelly said he has been working on the book for about one year.
“This is something near and dear to my heart regarding growing up in Phillips,” he said. “This is a book people in the Panhandle can love. It’s a book about memories.”
And memories are all the former residents of Phillips have left, as the residents were ultimately evicted by the city’s primary employer, Phillips Petroleum.
In the eyes of many people, Phillips wouldn’t seem like a good place to grow up.
Kelly described over the phone “a monstrous refinery that spewed clouds of pollution and vented poisonous gas over roofs of company houses.”
But to Kelly and everyone who will be attending the reunion, there couldn’t have been a better place to grow up.
“We were living the dream but just didn’t know it,” he said.
“We lived in the same (company) houses. We were poor but just didn’t know,” he said.
Kelly said big oil companies need to be grateful to their blue-collars.
“Without oil workers covered in grease and grime there wouldn’t be any successful oil companies,” he said. “I wanted to immortalize those oil workers.”
Kelly said that over time all of the former residents will die out, so he wants their memories to live on.
“They bought the land from under the homeowners and evicted them. It was a terrible way for the town to end up,” he said. “We have a feeling of abandonment because we can never go home.”
Kelly now lives in Royse City near Dallas where he is retired from a 39-year career in criminal justice.
Kelly said that for 2 ½ years he worked as a probation officer in Hutchinson County.
He graduated from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Academy in 1987.
Along with his career in criminal justice, Kelly holds a degree in history from West Texas University, now WTAMU, and a teacher’s certificate.
Kelly retired from Dallas County following 26 years of service. He married Barbara in 1981 and they have four children, Shaun, Michael, James and Rachel, as well as 11 grandchildren. He and Barbara love to travel, having visited Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Canada and Hawaii since retiring. Kelly is an active member of Community Baptist Church in Royse City. He is a member of the Royse City Cultural Arts Committee that oversees the C.F. Goodwin Public Library and the Zaner Robison Historical Museum. A writer and avid reader/researcher of history, Kelly is also a genealogist who enjoys researching family history.
Kelly said it was his humble beginnings in Phillips that made him successful in life.
He said the same holds true for many other PHS graduates.
“Phillips has produced doctors, lawyers and teachers,” he said. “We had the best teachers oil money could buy.”
Kelly said his book combines “prose and poetry with genealogy and history,” and added, “My editor said she has never quite seen a book like this.”
Following is an excerpt from the book’s epilogue:
As a Native Texan, I am proud to have grown up in the great state of Texas. But in my old age, I sometimes feel like there is something missing. Then I realize that something is my ancestors and my hometown of Phillips, Texas, now a ghost town. A town that once thrived on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle. Nothing left now but dirt after Phillips Petroleum tore down and dug up everything, including the grass. Several years ago I traveled to within a few yards of the Phillips refinery where Dad once worked and attempted access to the site of my former home, but a security guard turned me away at the front entrance as if I had never belonged. A feeling of sadness and abandonment washed over me. I couldn’t even go to my high school administration building, the only building left standing and now being used as offices by Phillips Petroleum.
Boom towns, wooden oil derricks and wildcat drillers are now gone. Pump jacks dotting the Panhandle prairie, like nodding donkeys, are all that remains of generations of my oil field family. Phillips was one of the last company towns from the historic early boom town years. An oil memorial ought to be erected at the former town site of Phillips, Texas, to commemorate those oil workers. If it wasn’t for the townspeople and the refinery workers living next door, Phillips Petroleum would not have been so successful in the oil industry.
Without oilmen covered in grime, grease and pitch black oil, there would be no multibillion-dollar oil companies. Phillips, Texas, was one of many legendary oil towns. The best thing about growing up in Phillips? I have a multitude of happy childhood memories to cherish. The most depressing part is that I can never go home again.
Kelly can be reached at 469-657-1809 or