At Capitol Hill: Marlene Phillips visits with U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, right, whom she later worked for.
Meeting With Legislator Proves Life-Changing Experience
Marlene Phillips | Cooke County EC, 1992
By Travis Hill | June 1, 2018
Most adults would be hard-pressed to name a lone episode that defined the course of their lives. Not Marlene Phillips. She traces her trajectory back to one pivotal experience 26 years ago—one that only Youth Tour could provide.
“Everything that has happened in my life through now is because of Youth Tour,” says Phillips, whose impressive career has taken her from small-town Texas to Capitol Hill and far-flung corners of the world.
It all goes back to the day she met her congressman on Youth Tour in 1992 as a delegate of Cooke County Electric Cooperative. While other participants met in groups with their representatives, Phillips was the only student to meet with then-U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall.
She remembers the encounter as if it were yesterday.
“I remember standing in front of these massive wood doors that are the entrance to every congressional office in the Rayburn Building and being kind of confused,” she says, adding that she didn’t know whether to knock or walk right in. “Just mustering up the courage to open that door was a big deal.”
Once inside, her sense of awe swelled. “It all just seemed kind of surreal,” she says. Hall seemed to know everything and everyone in Muenster, Phillips’ hometown. “I just felt so fortunate to be there with him.” As the visit was wrapping up, the congressman invited Phillips to lunch, a meal she recalls down to its mundane details. “I ordered a club sandwich, and he ordered soup.”
Congressional visits are a highlight for many who attend Youth Tour, but the experience stayed with Phillips. After she returned home from the trip, Hall stayed in touch with her and ultimately asked if she’d like to intern for him in Washington, D.C.
She worked for the congressman the summer after she graduated from Muenster High School, then again while she attended Texas Tech University. After earning a degree in communication studies, she went to work for Hall full time. Though she realized Capitol Hill wasn’t her ultimate calling, she credits Youth Tour for broadening her horizons: “My eyes were completely opened to the opportunities that exist in the world.”
Phillips went on to work for the American Red Cross, the Peace Corps in Namibia, and the Foreign Service in Mexico, Ecuador and France. Today, she’s back in Texas, just 15 miles from where she grew up and still a Cooke County EC member, working as the director of grants at North Central Texas College.
Phillips says Youth Tour not only set her on a path of service but also taught her how to meet people and make friends. “That’s a confidence builder, to go through that, to put yourself in a situation that has all the potential to be really uncomfortable and challenging and to come through it,” she says. “Plus, I remember a whole lot of songs from our songbook, so I can really sing some random hokey, folksy songs.”