Melodie Phillips is standing with Cindy Wilson today, because Wilson stood with her when it mattered most.
Phillips, who now lives in Sandpoint, is one of Wilson’s 4,000 former students. And as Wilson canvases the state as part of her campaign for superintendent of public instruction, she reconnects and stays with many of her former students and colleagues.
Phillips met Wilson in August of 1994, when Phillips was a junior at Orofino High and served as a teacher’s assistant in Wilson’s senior government class.
“I was pretty intimidated because I was just a junior,” Phillips admits.
Phillips never liked government and politics, at least not until she met Wilson.
“But she just really brought it alive and made it to where it was interesting and exciting,” Phillips said. “I could just see how engaged the kids became in class.”
The next year, Phillips signed up for Wilson’s class, and it became one of her all-time favorites.
Wilson brought the complex legal system to life for her students through mock trials. And she livened up class with improvised raps to help students remember discussion points.
Wilson had already made a big impression, but Phillips will remember what happened next for the rest of her life.
Phillips played volleyball and basketball in high school. During the seniors’ final home game, parents walked onto the center court to honor their children in front of the crowd.
But Phillips’s parents didn’t come.
“It’s something I remember, I was just really worried. I didn’t want to stand there by myself,” Phillips said.
Wilson got word of what was happening, and so she stood with Phillips to celebrate her athletic career.
“We’ve just been so close ever since,” Phillips said.
After Phillips heard Wilson was running for state superintendent, Phillips and her husband Nick Phillips (another of Wilson’s former students) invited Wilson to Sandpoint to stay with them and tour the community.
Nick Phillips took Wilson around Bonner’s Ferry, out to the fair and to introduce her at a local chamber of commerce meeting.
“(Wilson) has a very clear message of how she wants to make changes for the betterment of our students,” Nick Phillips said. “She wants to make the student experience from a small town in Orofino the same as it is closer to the capital in Boise. She doesn’t like the disparity between the money systems.”
After a day of meetings and campaigning, the Phillips invited Wilson back to their home and threw a small party to introduce Wilson to their teacher friends and fellow parents.
“I have kids in the school system,” Melodie Phillips said. “If I want anybody to be fighting for my kids, somebody to be advocating for their education, I would not want anybody else but Cindy.”
That doesn’t surprise Marianne Merrill, Wilson’s former Rick’s College roommate. A longtime teacher who is now an adjunct faculty member at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Merrill connected with Wilson as she campaigned in Rexburg and St. Anthony this summer.
“Cindy really understands the teacher’s perspective and she really understands the parent’s perspective because she is both,” Merrill said.
This summer, Marty and Barbara Meyer invited Wilson to Barbara Meyer’s annual birthday celebration, which was packed with Coeur d’Alene area educators. Marty Meyer has known Wilson for more than two decades, thanks to their mutual involvement with the Idaho Education Association.
“We got more positive comments from people who had a chance to meet her, and almost all them were ‘I’ve never felt more listened to in my whole life as when I talk to Cindy,’” Meyer said.
Wilson’s campaign trips to North Idaho this summer also allowed her to reconnect with Adetta Umphenour. Wilson was Umphenour’s homeroom teacher in sixth grade in Pierce.
In Umphenour’s eyes, Wilson showed her the world.
“We lived in such a small town way back in the hills, so we didn’t ever go anywhere big-city wise,” Umphenour said. “She arranged a trip to go to Boise, before they had school funding for those kinds of things and she helped us raise the money.”
During the day, Wilson showed them how their government works as she led them through the Statehouse. At night, she splurged on a fancy dinner the likes of which Umphenour had never experienced — escargot, flaming deserts and a wave of culinary adventures.
One of the things Umphenour remembers most from that trip was Wilson’s kindness.
“We had this one boy in class who was super tall and big, ”Umphenour said. “None of us had any money; it was a logging community. But she made sure he had new shoes to wear for the trip. It wasn’t just about academics for her.”
When Umphenour heard Wilson was running for office, she followed her social media campaigns and made sure to connect when Wilson campaigned in Boundary County.
Umphenour and Wilson connected at the Boundary County Fair and during a luncheon at Mugsy’s Tavern.
“She is going to be faced with working on some pretty hard situations in her new position if she gets elected,” Umphenour said. “She has energy to handle those things. Cindy is probably one of most intelligent and caring people I have ever met.”