Phyllis Jensen Campbell is a mature new voice in the genre of memoir. Although journal writing has long been her companion for reflecting on life’s challenges and mysteries, the compelling call to write, after the tragedy of her son’s death, was something quite different. About once a month, she found herself at her computer writing “Dear Charles,” and the book was born.
Phyllis grew up on a farm near Manning, Iowa, got a music degree from Drake University in Des Moines, and married soon after. A few years as a teacher were superseded by busy years in Minnesota as a stay-at-home mother of three close-in-age sons, living in Southeast Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, later moving to Mahtomedi on White Bear Lake. During this time, the family of five spent a sabbatical year camping their way through seventeen countries in a VW camper van. Some appearances in local music ensembles as well as a few stage roles in local community theaters rounded out these family focused years for Phyllis.
Husband David’s career move to the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro made North Carolina home for seven years, three high school graduations from Greensboro Day School, and Phyllis’ MFA degree in theater from the University. Unfortunately, during the North Carolina years, the marriage dissolved and Phyllis moved back to Minnesota in 1981.
Most recently, Phyllis coordinated, for twelve years, the Split Rock Arts Program, a program of intensive workshops in writing and visual arts, at the University of Minnesota. She retired from that post in 1998. Along with extensive traveling, retirement allowed the focus and the untold hours necessary to finally craft her book and pursue publication.
Throughout the transitions – so familiar to women today – including a divorce and twenty years on her own, the priority was always her three sons. The death of her middle son, Charles, at age 28, became the genesis of this book.
Re-married in year 2000 to Richard Tow (a Drake classmate 50 years ago), Phyllis lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she has spent most of her adult life. Eldest son Jim and wife Heather, along with sons Alec and Colin, live in Boulder, Colorado. Youngest son Drew is currently working in Singapore. They, along with a large extended family of step-children and step-grandchildren are today’s family priorities. Other priorities include lots of tennis, Richard’s motorcycle, biking, friends, and all those books she always meant to read.