Remembering OOIDA pioneer Marlys Phipps

August 14, 2019

Sandi Soendker

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The early years of OOIDA were times of great effort and sacrifice by people who pushed themselves outside of their personal comfort zones and diligently scrapped for each small victory.

Marlys Phipps was one of those early warriors, and she holds a special place in the history of small business trucking.

Marlys Phipps
Marlys Phipps

An OOIDA senior member formerly of Ames, Iowa, Phipps passed away Saturday, Aug. 10, according to her family. She was 82. Survivors include her husband, Don; her son, Harold and wife Dawn) of Polk City, Iowa; daughter, Janine Seibert (husband Jon) of Key West, Fla., three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She and Don joined OOIDA in 1980, and together they proved to be a persistent pair of trucking activists. Don is still a director emeritus of the Association’s Board of Directors.

“We would go to meetings as official representatives of OOIDA, lobbyists, whatever we needed to be,” Marlys told Land Line Magazine in April 2018. “Someone would ask who I was, and if it was necessary to make them listen. I’d say I was an executive director of OOIDA. If they just wanted to hear from a trucker, Don was it. Back in those days, we did whatever we had to.”

Her accomplishments as a trucking activist will always be a significant part of OOIDA’s history.

In the day when every state did its own thing, just the paperwork required to operate one single truck was a barrier to operating a small trucking business. Ironically, other than OOIDA and a few other activists, no one else was pushing for simplification.

“Marlys was tenacious in getting those states (that were amenable) to simplify their paperwork requirements in order to lessen the administrative burden on small business trucking companies,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer.

It’s because of people like Marlys and her and Don’s work for OOIDA that truckers don’t have to deal with dozens of license plates all over their truck. Uniform licensing and permitting was one of their many causes.

Spencer also notes that they were instrumental in focusing attention on the problems of lumpers that ended with the lumping statute that still exists today.

Marlys was born Nov. 22, 1937. She married Don Phipps in 1958. Don bought his first truck at 16; served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II; and went back to trucking after the war. To be concise, Don expanded his area of operation and size of his equipment, got his own authority, permits and customers and continued trucking with Marlys until he “semi-retired” in the late ’90s.

“All of this did not ‘just happen.’ We were there working to make the voices of the professional truckers heard,” Marlys told Land Line in an April 2018 interview.

“We knew D.C. was the starting place where differences could be made.”

“Don saw the vision that Jim Johnston had and felt his efforts would be helpful with OOIDA. Taking an ordinary trucker who was willing to park his truck when needed, placing him before members of Congress, speaking at hearings, meeting with officials at the ICC, DOT, executive White House, was a challenge that was met with courage and straightforward honesty. Don began to establish credibility with U.S. lawmakers. But taking the time to get so involved was a task,” Marlys recalled.
“Testifying? Meeting with officials? This was not Don’s idea of fun,” she said. “Arriving home after each ‘episode,’ he would get back in the truck in order to renew his sanity.”

Like many of the early board members, she and Don donated time and effort during the days OOIDA struggled for its existence. They attended board meetings wherever they could get table and chairs together (many times at his own expense), helped establish the credibility of the organization, flew to Washington, D.C. when needed, and represented OOIDA in many other roles.

“Back then the membership was small … very small,” Marlys said. “Finances were limited – very limited. Groundwork had to be laid and education done at all levels of government so those in power would learn and understand who the professional truckers of the nation were, what they did and how legislation affected them positively or negatively. And that no one else was representing them.”

“OOIDA was to become the organization recognized as representing this large number of truckers.”

The Phippses, like other veterans of the early days of OOIDA, have many stories, all showing how difficult it was to work with all levels of government (state, federal, agencies) and the importance of opposing bad laws and speaking up aggressively on proposed legislation that would be beneficial and workable for all.

“We also share many good memories of victories (large and small), hours of working through problems (with other board members, like Dave Strickler, Bill Harwell and Cliff Owsley) and watching the membership grow to 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and on,” Marlys said. “OOIDA did a lot with a little because we had dedicated people who would give sacrificially of their time, energy and finances.”

In 1986, OOIDA and Don Phipps sued Kentucky over an unlawfully pricey ICC authority renewal fee. Phipps was a regulated carrier doing business as Refrigerated Transport of Ames, Iowa. The court agreed the fee was too high, but the judge’s ruling did not extend to all owner-operators or ICC-exempt carriers. It wasn’t momentous, but the case was the first of many Association’s state lawsuit wins.

Marlys liked to tell the story about meeting one of the officials from Kentucky at an American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators meeting and how he asked, “Why is your husband suing me?” She was a well-spoken advocate with common sense answers.

According to the family, her death was attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. Visitation is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 15, at Heartland Baptist Church, 33313 Stange Road in Ames, Iowa. Memorial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, at the church.

The family suggests contributions to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

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