House on a Hill

photos by Brian Jones and Matt Cornelius
photos by Brian Jones and Matt Cornelius

House on a Hill

Walking the halls of the most beautiful homes in Texarkana is awe-inspiring. But hearing the stories of the families who daily walk those halls is truly inspirational. For Kelli and Jeff Phillips, their ranch-style home on 50 acres is a magnificent sight to see. Rolling hills, beautiful views out every window and the peaceful setting of country living, minutes from the conveniences of town, embody the space they now call their forever home.

Their story begins like most: “We met at Legends Gym,” Jeff said cunningly. “Every day she would come in and start her little workout. I liked what I saw. One day I decided to introduce myself and made the longest walk ever over to her. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Jeff. I just wanted to meet you.’ It was the most awkward introduction ever.”

“I told my co-workers, ‘He seems nice, but I just don’t know about a bald guy!’” Kelli admitted. “But his personality won me over. Just one date with Jeff did it for me. Conversation-wise, we just really clicked.” “We went out every night for the first two weeks,” Jeff said. “I knew what I wanted.”

You can’t help but laugh around the Phillips. Their energy is uplifting and their fun-loving attitude as a couple is infectious. “Jeff and I have been married 15 years this December,” Kelli said. “We are daylight and dark on a lot of levels, but he is our rock. We really balance each other out and complement each other. I’m high energy and have an adventurous spirit, and he is laid back, calm, always wants to take a nap, a hard worker, loves us like crazy, and puts God and family first.”

The Phillips have two kids. Roman is nine and Molly Kate is eight. “Roman is a fourth grader at Pleasant Grove. He loves LEGOs, loves to run and practice sprints up our driveway, and is super smart. He has a memory like an elephant, and we couldn’t be prouder of him,” Kelli said. “And then there is Molly Dolly, who is going into second grade. She is big into competition cheerleading and is a flyer for Twin City Cheer. She is our gymnastics superstar, and she’s as bendy as a rubber band! We don’t call her ‘tiny hiney’ for nothing. She was born in the front seat of a car and has kept us on our toes ever since.”

We cannot forget Daisy, the family’s black lab, who is the “most lovable dog on the planet. She’s never met a scratch or rub she didn’t love. We laugh and joke because our neighbors (through the woods), Sharon and Greg Richter, basically have ‘joint custody’ of Daisy. She spends half her days over there when we aren’t home. Thank goodness they are dog lovers. Ole ‘Crazy Daisy’ definitely lives up to her name.”

Both Jeff and Kelli grew up in tight-knit families in rural parts of Oklahoma, and they loved the idea of open-air country living when they thought about their future home together. “As a kid, my friends and I loved to play M-A-S-H (Mansion-Apartment-Shack-House),” said Kelli. “I always wanted the mansion, but Jeff and I had a two-story house before, and the kids never went upstairs. Our last home on Springwood Circle was too big. In the master bedroom, I could do at least five cartwheels across it! A one-story house was really my dream home. It’s functional! And this place allows Roman and Molly to rip across the back pasture on their four-wheeler or fish in the pond in our front yard. This place isn’t just about our house. It is also about our property and all the fun it allows us to enjoy.”

“Home to me is where your family is,” Jeff added. “I never had any desire for a big home-just something comfortable where we could enjoy our family.”

The glitz and glamour of their previous residence in North Fork was lacking the trees and the forever feeling they were looking for. Jeff had his eye on a particular piece of property owned by a mentor and dear friend. “I bought my (optometrist) practice from Dr. Bobby Pinkner when I first moved to Texarkana. I drove up here from Mt. Pleasant one evening after work, and within 15 minutes, we had made a deal for me to buy his practice on Texas Boulevard (The Eye Guys).” With their personal property, it was a similar story. “We were looking for land, and I knew Dr. Pinkner had about 50 acres out off Richmond Road,” said Jeff. “I called him and asked if we could talk about it. One night over dinner, I told him and his wife, Evelyn, we were interested in buying their land. We said we wanted to cut out an acre for them, and we wanted them to stay here with us forever.”

“We felt like we were so blessed because we never dreamed they would sell it to us,” Kelli added. “I remember getting out of the truck, walking up to their house for the infamous ‘let’s make a deal’ dinner night, thinking this could go south quick. I didn’t want to offend them.”

“Dr. Pinkner is like a father figure to me,” Jeff continued. “We have a very good relationship and love having them here with us. The kids even call them Popa Bobby and Granny E.”

After purchasing the property, the Phillips built a cozy cabin on the property and lived there six years while they planned for and built their dream home. “We were so excited to move to Wamba. When we bought the land, we did a lot of work cleaning it up,” Kelli said. “We had to clear trees and there were fences we had to tear down. We built a barn house cabin Jeff called ‘the shop house.’ We went from a 5,500 square-foot home in North Fork to 1,100 square feet on the bottom floor of our little place. We didn’t want to live there forever because it only had one bathroom, and the closet space was a little tight. But we loved it. It’s hard to beat coffee on the front porch while watching deer.”

It was in those quiet years of very close quarters living the couple began discussing how Jeff’s medical diagnosis would alter their building plans. “I have limb-girdle muscular dystrophy,” Jeff explained. “I got it from my dad, and he got it from his mom. It’s autosomal dominant, and it’s a wasting disease. Everything is good in my mind, my heart, and my organs, but my muscles are slowly wasting away. There’s no treatment; there’s no cure. All you can do is eat healthy and workout as well as you can. But I am getting progressively weaker as I get older. I saw my dad go through this, so I know I’m going to wind up in a wheelchair at some point. Getting up out of a chair is difficult now, and I can’t walk up any stairs. So, while we were living in the shop house, we designed this house. I didn’t want any steps in it, and I wanted zero-threshold doors. I want wide doors in case I’m in a wheelchair one day. I don’t want to be scraping paint off the walls busting around in here.”

Lynlee Harvey walked the Phillips through the designing and building process and helped them create the perfect home to meet their unique needs in the perfect spot. “I had a lot of friends who were building homes and using Lynlee Harvey for their plans. They were clean looking, with white walls and white oak, and I liked that style. I knew I wanted to go in that direction, so I told Lynlee to put me on the books,” Kelli said. “We chose this spot for the incredible view. It’s just so beautiful to look out toward the bottoms. We can see all the way to the smokestacks at Domtar in Ashdown. If this land could talk, so to speak, I feel like it would tell tales of Native Americans having battles on this bluff years ago.”

“The Phillips’ home is a unique style in our area. It has a very Texas modern feel. It features clean lines and single sloping roofs with updated, designer finishes inside, all while being totally comfortable and livable for a young family who is in and out and making the most of their outside surroundings,” said Harvey.

Despite the challenges of building a home and finishing the last details, there is one detail in their home with a story they love to tell. “So, my husband is a gambler,” Kelli laughed, “and one night we got together with some close friends, Kara and John Humphrey. John and Jeff were gambling about square footage in our new house, and then there was a bet.” “I’m not building this monster mansion,” Jeff told John. John bet the house would end up being bigger than they were planning.

“We won the bet!” finished Kelli. “But we didn’t care about it and told him not to worry about it. We weren’t the Horseshoe! We weren’t holding him accountable. But Kara, being the personality she is, wanted to make it right. She knew we would not take the money, so she ended up going to Nicole Brisco, a local artist here in town, because she knew I loved her artwork. Kara gave her the money to make me a special abstract piece that is beautiful! It says, ‘Look up’ meaning to keep your eyes focused on Jesus.’ It’s so special to me, and it reminds me of sweet Kara and makes me smile every time I walk by it.” That reminder, along with the reality of what may come, gave them confidence that this home would be one that would fit their family and future generations.

“My hope is that my kids will see this as their house forever. I don’t care what my kids do. I just want to make sure they know God is first, family second, and friends third. I want these core values instilled in them. But we have a lot of land, and I hope eventually they’ll come back, and we can put a little spot over there for them to build their home. We can have our little family live here forever. That’s what I hope.”

“Our own compound!” joked Kelli. “It’s not the perfect spot for everyone. Some people want to live in a neighborhood. But for Jeff and I, the way we were raised, it’s ideal for us. And we thank God we have it. I get a sense of gratitude every time I drive up the driveway and see our view. I want my kids and their friends to always feel welcome here, remembering the Halloween hayrides, countless pool parties and redneck car hood ranger rides we are famous for.”

Kelli recalls, “I recently had my car detailed by a good friend, Steve Brooks. He was admiring the house, and I told him about Jeff’s medical diagnosis. The conversation turned solemn for a second and I joked and laughed, ‘Now don’t feel sorry for us, Stevie Ray. Look around. Look what we have to be grateful for.’ He laughed and agreed.” “We will never take any of it for granted,” she said. “One positive thing that has come from Jeff having muscular dystrophy is that it gives you perspective. Each day on the hill is a gift and we plan on making each one count.”


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