Nicholas E. Phillips, ’70, Distinguished Citizen Award Recipient 2020
“With the leadership skills that I learned at Kent State, I was able to make myself useful to our community throughout my career.”
Nicholas E. Phillips, ’70, was serving as an RA in Stopher Hall and was the Cadet Wing Commander of the Air Force ROTC Detachment 630 when the events of May 4, 1970 occurred. That was his last day on campus as an undergraduate student and one he will never forget. While that was a defining moment, he had many other experiences at Kent State that shaped him into the remarkable community member that he is today.
As a Kent State student, Nick founded and organized the Kent State Student Bar Association for pre-law students and helped female students eliminate curfew hours that were applied only to women on campus.
“At the time, anyone under 21 was considered a minor, but women had a curfew. So, we hosted a protest in Leebrick and Tri-Towers. We asked about 200 women to stay out past curfew and when they returned to their dormitories, they demanded a yellow slip which meant they would have to face student discipline for violating curfew. After that, the curfew for women students went away,” Nick said.
After graduating from Kent State, he went on to law school at University of Akron and soon after passed the Ohio Bar. He then entered active duty with the U.S. Air Force as a Military Attorney, Judge Advocate (JAG). Stationed in Hawaii, he was appointed to the position of Director of International Law for the Pacific Air Force Headquarters. Among his duties and accomplishments, he was instrumental in establishing the Wake Island Judiciary, which was a justice system for more than 14,000 Vietnamese refugees following the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.
Upon his completion of active duty, Nick continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve and spent the remainder of his 31-year military career working in the Pentagon and at commands elsewhere with the Air Force. He retired in 2001 at the rank of Colonel. He was awarded the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Legion of Merit, one of the USAF's highest honors, and in 2017 he was recognized as a Distinguished Veteran by the Republican Veterans of Cuyahoga County.
“To me, community service has always been a part of my life. Through my experiences at Kent State and in the military, I learned lifelong leadership skills and understood the continuing obligation to give back to the institutions and the community that has given me such a good life,” Nick said.
Following his active service with the Air Force, Nick returned to Ohio where he opened a private law practice in North Royalton. He distinguished himself as a trial attorney and won several high value cases for his clients. He was appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court for a five-year term to the Ohio Board of Bar Examiners, and he served many years as Special Counsel with the Ohio Attorney General's Office. He has also served as North Royalton's Law Director, volunteering for 10 years as a juvenile court diversion program magistrate.
He has given numerous professional seminars to attorneys, law students and non-attorney groups. Nick has held presidential positions with his local Bar Association, local Chamber of Commerce and has served his local school board for 12 years. For the past four years, he has been President of the North Royalton High School Alumni Association, which has an estimated 18,000 members. As such, he conducts monthly meetings, fundraising efforts and heads up the association’s leadership team.
Regarding his leadership and community involvement, Nick said, “Having well-run organizations with clear goals leads to the highest level of productivity and successful accomplishments. These skill sets were introduced to me and developed while at Kent State. For that I am grateful.”
One of Nick’s greatest accomplishments was founding the North Royalton Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which is a group of nearly 100 volunteers that remains trained, equipped and ready to assist the local police and fire departments in case of a large-scale emergency. Proceeding the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, Nick was approached by his local mayor and asked to help establish a CERT for their community.
Nick said, “Our mayor asked me to get involved in setting up a CERT, which we did in 2003. I’m still the leader of it. What I find is there are a lot of good people out there that really enjoy giving back also, and they’re looking for leadership. Somebody has to step forward to make something happen. If you’re a good leader, people are going to enjoy following you.”
Nick has also worked with the Cuyahoga County Emergency Management Agency in organizing and supporting the many CERTs in Cuyahoga County for more than a decade.
Outside of his community involvement, he has a wonderful marriage with his high school sweetheart and fellow Golden Flash, Diane (Klika) Phillips, ’75. Nick and Diane have two children and four grandchildren.
“As a matter a fact, we dated throughout college, law school, the military and we’re still married after all these years. Kent State was a special place in our relationship. It’s a part of our marriage and our life,” Nick said.
Nick and Diane have always been huge supporters of Kent State University. He has served on the Kent State College of Arts and Science Leadership Council for years and they both fund an annual scholarship for deserving Air Force ROTC Cadets at the Kent State Detachment.
Nick said, “Providing a scholarship to a Kent State student is one way to give back to the institution that gave me a wonderful education; it also feels good and is the right thing to do for the next generation of young people.”