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  • Writer's pictureElaine Berberich

Phyllis Wiltrout - real strength is in helping others

Phyllis and John Wiltrout together in solidarity with their shaved heads_

For over 15 years, many needy neighbors in Fairfield Harbour have benefited from the services of Harbour Helpers run by Phyllis Wiltrout assisted by her husband John. Many people here have called and received rides for appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands as well as those little things around the house that just need a neighbor’s helping hand like changing a lightbulb. Phyllis was quick to point out that Harbour Helpers does not provide medical care or major household help or construction. It’s just something that any good neighbor would provide.

After 15 years Phyllis and John are retiring from running Harbour Helpers but never from helping. After another challenging medical diagnosis, she felt it was time to retire and “take care of myself.” With a heavy heart and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, they handed the organization over to Cindy and Alan Malgadey that were described by Phyllis as an “amazing couple whom she knew was just right.”

Phyllis and John moved to Fairfield Harbour in 2004 from New Jersey and said “they wouldn’t want to live anyplace else” because of all the wonderful people. They have been friends with Marge and Ray DeSantis for 50 years and they found a house to be near their friends. In her “previous life” Phyllis worked at Home Depot as a trainer and traveled in the New Jersey area. When they moved to North Carolina she continued working as a trainer based out of Jacksonville, NC. John spent his career in sales management and when they moved to Fairfield Harbour, he worked in the guard gate. Between each other, Phyllis and John have six children, twenty grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and a rescue dog named Remi.

After she retired her husband suggested the idea of Harbour Helpers. Phyllis had also been a volunteer at Hospice and was already in the habit of helping. Her husband recalls, “I suggested it to keep her from being bored.” The Wiltrouts felt that there was a need for something like this in the neighborhood. Harbour Helpers functions with about 25 volunteers and receives about 3 calls a week asking for help. Sometimes it just might involve a listening ear. Phyllis usually answers the phone (24/7) and even took it with her to the hospital when she was receiving medical treatment. Typical requests would include shopping, driving to appointments, driving to the airport, and sitting with homebound patients allowing the caregiver to get out. Handymen and women have done things like changing light bulbs and filters, simple handy work, and emergency repairs. Young volunteers have been extremely helpful when it came to heavy lifting and furniture rearranging. Often the volunteers end up becoming good friends with those they have helped.

Phyllis has struggled with medical issues but it has never slowed her down. She had her leg amputated after reconstructive knee replacement surgery and sepsis in 20l6. When John was asked whether this slowed her down, he laughed and said "not one bit" as Phyllis power washes from her wheelchair and does everything else and could be described as the “energizer bunny.” Phyllis said, "you have two choices—you can lie around and cry and whine or get things done."

When Phyllis was undergoing chemo and lost her hair it didn’t bother her because John has always told her, “You’re the most beautiful woman in the room.” Her cancer is now in remission.

One thing that Phyllis and John stress is that the organization is nothing without the help of volunteers and community helpers. Phyllis is just one shining example of the type of people that live in Fairfield Harbour and it is a true honor to have her as a part of our community.

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