By Kasey Fowler, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
The opening of Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center gave new life to a project started more than 10 years ago about Phillips University.
Local author JoAnn Phillips was asked years ago to write a book about the university.
“I was asked to write a little storybook,” she said. “It was to be a promotional item for high school seniors. They could read it and learn about Phillips and decide if they wanted to go there.”
Phillips spent time in the Phillips University library working on material for the book, “Lil Hay,” a fictional, historic account of Phillips University told through Pepe, later known as Lil Hay, the skunk mascot of the school.
“I love research. Research is probably my favorite part of writing,” Phillips said. “I had full rein of the library. They were so nice and I spent time in there going through all the books.”
However, the book was not completed then because the university was close to shutting down due to financial difficulties.
“I knew Phillips was in trouble,” Phillips said. “I knew there was no money and the project wasn’t going to fly so I just stopped.”
With the opening of the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, the book had new life breathed into it.
Alumni and friends of the university raised $1 million to create the Thelma Gungoll Phillips University Gallery in the Heritage Center.
“I got a call about what ever happened to the transcript,” Phillips said. “They knew they were going to have a thing for Phillips in the new museum. I put a new ending on it about the closing of the university.”
“Lil Hay” covers more than 100 years of Phillips University as told by the school’s skunk mascot. The book includes different drawings of the mascot as it changed since its inception in 1944. Each chapter of the book concludes with Lil Hay writing home to his mother telling her about what is going on at Phillips University.
After Phillips completed the manuscript, she began looking for an illustrator.
“We kept looking for illustrators. We had a few submissions but no one was really interested,” she said.
Phillips had been looking for an illustrator she previously had worked with but was unable to find him. During her search, Phillips contacted Jo Lynch, an adjunct instructor of illustration and drawing at Oklahoma State University.
“She fell in love with the way that I made animals lifelike and also the way I included historical detail, like in the clothing,” Lynch said.
The two got together and spoke in length about the book.
“She really got where I was going right away,” Phillips said.
Lynch said there is about 100 hours of illustration work in “Lil Hay.” Lynch enjoyed the way Phillips told the story of Phillips University.
“The story is basically the history of Phillips University, but it is told in a very lighthearted way,” Lynch said. “Pepe went off to college and had adventures in college. It follows him through his life and family and is all tied in to Phillips University. My job was to take each scene, like when he was leaving home on the train, and translate the skunk into a young man in the ’50s going off to college. I got to marry this skunk to a very human-like character.
“It has been such an honor to work with JoAnn Phillips. She made what could have been a very dry historical piece into something very interesting and fun to read.”
Lynch recently was honored for her illustrations of “Lil Hay” by the Oklahoma State University Library.
“I was honored as a part of ‘Celebrating books by OSU authors.’ This year is the first year they included an illustrator as a part of a published work,” Lynch said. “They offered to market the book at the event. The book was shown at the event and it is a permanent part of the special collection at OSU Library.”
“Lil Hay” will be be sold at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, as well as at Phillips Legacy Foundation.
“All proceeds from the book go to the Phillips Legacy Foundation,” Phillips said.
The book is available in a paperback version that is not in color, or 250 hardback collector’s editions are available that are signed, numbered and in color.