- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

PHIL CAMPBELL, Ala. (AP) - A colorful, new 10-foot-high signs in Phil Campbell Memorial Park boasts the names of cities like London, England; Coffs Harbour, Australia; Juneau, Alaska; Brooklyn, New York; and Glasgow, Scotland.

A sign like this in a small northwest Alabama town, might seem strange to some, but for most residents of the town it makes perfect sense. The sign points the way to the nearest Phil Campbell - and no, that’s not a trick statement.

The cities listed on the sign all have a resident who shares the same name and who has developed a bond with the Shoals town and its residents since their pilgrimage to their namesake town four years ago.

Many of these Phil Campbells still keep in contact with Phil Campbell residents, and several of those who live close by come back for a visit once or twice a year.

Phil Campbell, of Birmingham is only a couple of hours away. He has visited the town numerous times since the group’s mass gathering and relief effort four years ago following the April 27, 2011, tornado that leveled the community.

Birmingham Phil, as he came to be known, mainly because nicknames become a necessity when you’re dealing with more than 20 people who all share the same name, said he has been greatly impacted by the group of Phils and their interesting journey.

He said thinking about the past four years gave him the idea for the sign. He thought it would be a neat project to complete and donate to the town for its public park.

“I was just thinking about all the Phils and how extraordinary this experience has been,” Birmingham Phil said. “In thinking about how they live in all parts of the country and the world, and even on different continents, it just brought to mind that iconic sign from the show “MASH.” I couldn’t get that image out of my head.

“On the show, that sign was there to remind everyone that they had a home and people there who loved them. I thought how nice that would be to have that physical reminder of the connection all the Phils have formed with each other and with the town. We haven’t forgotten the town, even if we haven’t all been able to get back for awhile.”

Birmingham Phil said he ran the idea past Brooklyn Phil, of New York, who is the organizer of the gathering of Phils. After getting his input, he contacted Phil Campbell Parks and Recreation Director Rita Barton to get her approval.

“She was very receptive and gracious to embrace the project and give us the go-ahead,” he said.

Birmingham Phil, Tuscaloosa Phil and Barton’s husband, Eddie, put the sign up. Barton said she couldn’t help but feel pride when she saw them putting the finishing touches on the sign.

“The Phils are a special group, and they really care about this town,” she said. “I never would’ve thought when we first started talking about this gathering of Phils that some of these people would become just like family, but they have. They care about us and what goes on here, and that means so much.”

Birmingham Phil said the feeling is mutual.

“The people in this town are extraordinary folks,” he said. “Even before the tornado happened, before I met them, I felt like Rita was a friend just from communicating on Facebook. Since then, she and her family, in particular, have come to feel like part of my family. There are several people that I make sure to see every time we visit, and we keep up with each other on social media. It’s a special thing to have a whole group of people in another place that know you and feel like you all have something in common.”

Birmingham Phil said some of the other Phils helped with the sign project, so it was truly a group effort.

“Springfield, Ohio, Phil did a lot of the work making some of the individual signs for the overseas Phils, and Fayetteville, Georgia, Phil helped us out with the funding for the project. Franklin, Tennessee, Phil made his sign and sent it, as did Tuscaloosa Phil - his is made of license plates.”

Phil Campbell Mayor Steve Bell said the sign was a great addition to the town.

“It’s great that this group still has an interest in making Phil Campbell better,” Bell said. “It’s good to see how many Phils have visited, and be able to get a perspective on where they are all from.”

Birmingham Phil said he’s glad to work on projects that will keep him connected with the town and with the rest of the Phils.

“In the last few weeks, I have spoken by telephone, email, Facebook and even regular mail with quite a number (of the Phils),” he said. “It is like a brotherhood. Even though some of us haven’t seen one another in a few years, it’s like we are old friends. It’s hard to get my head around it sometimes. I don’t know anyone else who has 20 friends with their same name.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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