Hundreds to gather for the funeral of Milwaukee civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips

Posted at 6:56 PM, May 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-06 04:14:07-04

MILWAUKEE -- This weekend hundreds will gather for the funeral of civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips.

Her visitation took place at Feerick Funeral Home in Shorewood Friday night. The former Secretary of State had a huge impact on civil rights in Milwaukee.

Reverend Joseph Ellwanger and his wife Joyce worked closely with Phillips on social justice campaigns in Milwaukee.

"What's remarkable to me is the way she continued to work on not just housing issues but all the education issues all her life until she was not physically and mentally able to it," Ellwanger said.

"Vel was so small she was so fragile," adds Joyce Ellwanger. "When I would give her a hug I thought I have to be a little careful I don't want to squeeze her too hard but she was feisty."

Vel Phillips served in all 3 branches of government and was the first woman on Milwaukee's Common Council. In 2007, Phillips told TODAY'S TMJ4 about her early challenges.

"It was pressure, Phillips said. "But I didn't feel it because I was so new at it."

In the 70's Phillips became the first woman judge in Milwaukee County.

In 1979, Vel Phillips was the first African American Woman to be elected to statewide office as secretary of state.

Joseph Ellwanger says he'll miss "her openness and approachability,"

Joyce Ellwanger smiles as she reminisces,"Just being able to sit ast the table and talk and laugh, she had a wonderful sense of humor." 

Vel Phillips left an indelible mark on Wisconsin and she will be a touchstone for years to come