Illinois REALTOR® Magazine | January 2014
By Jon Broadbooks | Editor
There are many words that describe Phil Chiles.
The 2014 president of the Illinois Association of REALTORS® has a background that includes service in the U.S. Marine Corps, a stint as a missionary and preacher and time in state government.
His life is one that has stretched from Springfield to Vietnam to Liberia and back to Springfield. Through it all, he’s been a builder.
Sometimes it is in the literal sense, such as when he frames houses for Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County.
Other times, it involves building organizations, churches and other outreach efforts.
“People say to me ‘you’ve had such a varied career’” Chiles said. “It’s the same ability to communicate and solve problems; to help people and guide them along; to help them make the right decisions.”
It should be no surprise that 2014 will be a year of building for IAR.
Chiles has set goals to build on the REALTORS® Political Action Committee’s success by launching a new program to boost participation. And he’s set a goal to build three Habitat for Humanity houses in his year at the helm of the 41,000-member association.
Chiles was born in 1948 in Springfield and attended public schools in the city. His father, William (Bill), worked in manufacturing and custodial services and died in 1995.
His mother, Beverly, was a stay-at-home mom for much of Chiles’ early life, later working as a restaurant manager and then for 20 years as a master foster parent for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She attended Chiles’ inaugural banquet in October, and at 83 she still works as a state contractor.
By Chiles’ account, he was a bit of a handful as a teenager.
“I was what you might call the proverbial bad boy,” Chiles said. “I was always getting into minor scrapes. I didn’t care much for discipline, and I sort of wanted to do my own thing.”
As Chiles’ time in high school was winding down, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was increasing. A friend in the U.S. Marine Corps told Chiles about how his experience made him a better person.
For Chiles, that seemed just what he needed.
“I figured that the only hope that I had was if I got some real discipline in my life,” Chiles said. He knew the decision meant there was a good chance he would end up in Vietnam.
So at 19 he shipped off to San Diego, finished boot camp and later became a mechanic assigned to fix electrical systems on F-4 Phantom jets.
A year after enlisting, he married his wife, Peggy.
Chiles jokingly says he got married without ever really dating his wife of 45 years. After all, he knew her from their time at Grant Junior High School. They had many friends in common, and in high school they would often talk late into the night.
“We went out something like three times before we got married,” he says.
In 1969, orders came in requesting personnel from Chiles’ unit to go to Vietnam. Chiles volunteered. When he left, Peggy was pregnant with their first child, Heather.
“I turned 21 in Vietnam,” Chiles remembers. “And less than a month later I found out from the Red Cross that I had a little girl.”
Chiles spent his overseas assignment working on aircraft at the Danang and Chu Lai airfields.
“It was one of those frustrating times for me,” Chiles said. “ The president was on TV all the time talking about how he was pulling troops out -- and we constantly saw more and more troops coming in. We felt like the American people weren’t being told the truth.”
When he returned to the U.S. in 1970, Chiles found he wasn’t the only one disillusioned with the war.
“I can remember flying into Travis (Air Force Base) and going out the main gate in a taxi and there were protestors standing there spitting at the cab calling us baby-killers,” Chiles said.
After he got out of the Marines, he moved the family back to Springfield. Chiles attended Lincoln Land Community College and later Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois, Springfield). He worked his way through college, framing houses 50 to 60 hours a week, and going to school at night.
While at Sangamon State, Chiles worked for state Sen. John Davidson of Springfield. The move to politics seemed a natural one. After all, Chiles’ grandfather spent 32 years as the Springfield water commissioner.
“I think there was a political stream running in my blood,” Chiles said.
In 1976 when Jim Thompson was elected Illinois governor, Chiles’ legislative experience paid off. He worked at the state departments of Transportation as a lobbyist, and later at Administrative Services, before moving over to the Department of Conservation.
“That’s where I wanted to go in the first place,” he said. “I was their legislative person for two years, and then there was an opening as director of their public relations division and I did that until 1984.”
It was while working for state agencies that Chiles’ life took another turn.
“I had never been very serious about my faith,” Chiles said. “Peggy and I were having some issues in our marriage — sort of drifting apart — and we both came to the conclusion that if we were going to get it back together we really needed God in our life.”
The couple started going to church and attending Bible studies. Through church they met a friend who encouraged them to think about becoming missionaries.
“He challenged us to go to a third-world country because Peggy was a nurse and I had building skills, and he thought we could really be utilized there,” Chiles said. By this time, the family had grown by two more. Carie was born in 1971 and Jeremy, born in 1976. Leaving Springfield and heading to Liberia was a huge step.
“There was some apprehension because we didn’t know what things were really going to be like, Chiles said. “One thing we found is what you plan on doing isn’t always what you end up doing.”
Based in the port city of Buchanan, Liberia, the Chiles’ had planned to work taking a mobile medical clinic to remote areas of the developing country.
When they got to Africa in 1984, the couple found the need was for high school teachers.
“I didn’t do what I planned on doing, but I felt very fulfilled in what I did,” Chiles said.
Although Chiles’ time in Africa didn’t go according to script, he found he enjoyed preaching. Chiles was assigned to a team that would go into the country’s interior. Through an interpreter he would provide lessons for local pastors they could share with their congregations.
The family had committed to two years in Africa, but that was cut short when Chiles contracted an illness that nearly killed him.
“The doctors told us that we really didn’t need to stay there, because if I got sick again I probably wouldn’t make it,” Chiles said.
“I had not done much preaching prior to going to Liberia,” Chiles said. “After I started doing it (preaching) in Liberia I felt like maybe that was where God was leading me.”
Back in the U.S., Chiles enrolled in Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and got his master’s degree in Divinity.
That led to a pastorship at a Methodist church in central Illinois and three years later, a chance to plant a church in Springfield.
As a Methodist minister, Chiles knew he might be re-assigned. With Peggy’s mother to help care for, he wasn’t interested in relocating again. If he was going to get another church assignment, he asked that it be close to Springfield.
When the assignment came, it was to pastor a church in southern Illinois. Chiles turned down the post.
“What do you mean, what are you going to do?” he remembers a church official asking.
“I said, well, I’ve always thought real estate was interesting,” Chiles said.
He enrolled in the classes and went to work for Julie Davis Realty in 2000.
Now in addition to being a broker-associate with The Real Estate Group in Springfield, he builds homes with his son-in-law, Doug Cycholl, as a co-owner of Levi Home Construction.
His service as a church leader and in government is still evident.
Chiles officiates the occasional marriage and serves on his church’s leadership team.
His interest in politics has seen him into his second term as a trustee for Capital Township. He’s worked on several political campaigns through the years, and currently heads the exploratory committee for a potential Springfield mayoral candidate.
Chiles’ passion for building is reflected in his slogan for the year “The Power of R.”
It focuses on four key benefits provided by association membership: Education, RPAC, the RVoice local advocacy program, and the sense of family that comes from working with colleagues.
In 2014 he wants to see the association build three Habitat for Humanity houses in the state.
He also wants to see RPAC gain momentum.
"I really have felt for a long time that our own members don’t understand the power that we have as REALTORS®,” Chiles said. “RPAC is probably the thing that jumps out for most people … but for me it’s more than just RPAC. It’s not just having people out there, but having the research and the tools. Because of that we make a huge difference. And we can make a bigger difference.”
The Habitat projects are the outgrowth of more than a decade of work with the non-profit group that aims to put lower-income families on the path to affordable homeownership.
Chiles has served as a member of the local Habitat board of directors, and has provided labor and supervision for numerous builds.
After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Chiles led teams of Illinois REALTORS® to Alabama and Mississippi to build homes, and he takes part in Habitat projects organized as part of the National Association of REALTORS® conventions.
As for RPAC, Chiles has launched a campaign calling on 1,000 of the association’s 41,000 members to boost RPAC involvement. These 1,000 Points of Light RPAC Ambassadors will be asked to recruit ten Fair-Share givers.
“RPAC is strong, but we can make it stronger,” he told those attending his inaugural banquet in St. Charles, Ill., in October.
The REALTOR® organization is unique, Chiles says. It stands for professionalism, and it’s the ethical standards (and the enforcement behind those standards) that makes the brand so powerful.
“I know the importance of what a strong organization can do, and we have a strong organization,” he said. “We just need to keep making it better.
Making a Difference
In his installation speech Chiles announced his goal for IAR to build three Habitiat for Humanity homes this year — in the Fox Valley, Springfield and Carbondale areas.
1,000 Points of Light Campaign
Chiles has launched a 1,000 Points of Light RPAC Ambassador Campaign, calling on 1,000 of the association's 41,000 members to recruit ten new $20 fair-chare givers.
Your 2014 IAR Officers
Phil Chiles, ABR, CRS, GRI, SRES
Broker-Associate, The Real Estate Group, Springfield
Jim Kinney, ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI
Vice President of Luxury Home Sales,
Baird & Warner, Chicago
Broker-Associate, Charles B. Doss & Co., Aurora
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT
Michael D. Oldenettel, CRS, GRI
RE/MAX Results Plus, Inc., Jacksonville