On Monday, May 11, 2020, a journey of more than 30000 days ended for John Phillip "Phil" Misener in Gold Canyon, Arizona, from complications of congestive heart failure, one day after receiving his $1200 COVID-19 stimulus check from the US government (his idea of economic infusion, it is thought). His last hours were spent under the loving care of his main squeeze, Delores Annette Sullivan, a high school classmate he had been fortunate to have reunited with nine years earlier.
Phil's journey began on December 17, 1937, in the front bedroom of the Misener house in Caldwell, Kansas. Baby brother Phil was added to the irrepressible storyteller clan headed by Milford Gearld "Mike" Misener, Sr. and Ivah Lola (Dunlap) Misener. Five-year-old Milford, Jr. would have the pleasure (and agony, and joy, and torment) of spending the next 82 years with a little brother, a companion to hunt with, tell competing stories about, argue their divergent points of view, and to love.
Details of young Phil's early life are shrouded in the confusion of stories massaged through the years to achieve the greatest effect. What is known is that Phil wandered the southwest, primarily because his family kept moving, living in various towns in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado, before finally graduating high school in 1955 in Gallup, New Mexico. In search of greater enlightenment, he headed to Highlands University and the following year to Arizona State College (as it was then known) to study architecture, where he met Rosalie Louise Wenoff, his first wife and mother of his children. But the allure of fighting fires in California for the Forest Service was too great a temptation, and an opportunity to visit France, paid for by the US Army, further delayed his formal illumination, though he did discover the clarifying properties of peppermint schnapps, jazz, and Saint-Nazaire.
Reliable details of his service are hard to come by, but he was honorably discharged, then he returned to Tempe to marry, start a family, and graduate from Arizona State University in 1968 with a degree in education, to teach history. Seeking the illuminating elixir of life in the mountains, he moved to Dolores where he spent the next ten years coaching basketball and teaching junior high math (because that is what a great storyteller and historian should teach). His architectural training paid off while in Dolores as he designed and built the family home, his son and daughter the primary hired help, which may explain why the build took more than three years, and still was never completed.
Life changed for him, his first marriage dissolved, and in 1976, he married Norma Joy Brandt, (nee Driscoll). He left the classroom shortly after, continuing his quest for truth at Fort Lewis College, where he earned a bachelor's in accounting. With degree in hand, he worked for the BOCES in Montezuma County, again for the Forest Service (this time as a surveyor), for a general store as a cashier and resident story-teller, as bookkeeper for an industrial supply warehouse, and finally as the chief financial officer for Weeminuche Construction, the position he held until his retirement in 2009, one year after the passing of his second wife.
Phil did not believe in letting work get in the way of his hobbies. He enjoyed gardening, tinkering with his '67 Camaro, riding his motorcycle, and building model railroad layouts (though, like his house, he never completed one). His passions, ones he shared with his brother, were hunting and target shooting. It gave the two something to tell stories about (and more than once, when it was convenient, to bend the truth over). He spent hours in the mountains "gathering firewood", always a firearm in tow, occasionally even taking along a chainsaw. He was happiest in pursuit of coyotes and that trophy elk, or just trying to cause the demise of lollipops, golf balls, and bowling pins. He was a founding member of the Cortez Gun Club and could be seen at the shooting range nearly every week, testing loads, killing rocks, sharing advice with those who asked. He spent as much time discussing ballistics and reloading as he ever did teaching math. As he would say, these skills were much more useful than solving equations. Perhaps that was the great truth he sought his whole life.
Phil was preceded in death by his parents, his second wife, his sister-in-law Coral Jean Misener (Steenbergen), his nephew Randall David Misener, his great-nephew Sgt. Garrett Anderson Misener, USMC, and many other family, friends, and former students.
He leaves behind his big brother Milford Gearld Misener, Jr., his daughter Shelley Daune (Skip) Williams, his son Jeffery Paul Misener, his four step-sons Dana (Julie) Brandt, Pat Brandt, Kevin Brandt, and Rusty Brandt; his granddaughter Christina Dawn Tilton, his great-granddaughter Samantha Morgan Tilton, a '73 Chevy half-ton pick-up, and enough powder and primers to restock the barren cupboards of the US military arsenal.
His ashes will be spread in a small gathering on June 13, with an open house welcoming friends and family at his home at 719 Birch Drive in Cortez from 4 until 7. In lieu of flowers, please indulge in a pumpkin pie or a bucket of ice cream. Life is just too short to eat only greens.
Published in The Journal on May 26, 2020.