How did we get here?

Don Phipps
OOIDA Director Emeritus

Whether you are going to succeed or not is largely based on being clear about who you are and what you want to accomplish. The first truckers who founded OOIDA knew that.

The early struggling years of OOIDA were times of great effort and sacrifice by people who diligently worked for each small victory and who met each setback with added resolve to regroup, and try, try again until a positive result was reached.

One of those early warriors was a board member named Don Phipps (now director emeritus), who together with his wife, Marlys, proved to be a tenacious pair of trucking activists.

“We would go to meetings as official representatives of OOIDA, lobbyists, whatever we needed to be,” says Marlys. “Someone would ask who I was, and if it was necessary to make them listen, I’d say I was an executive director of OOIDA. If they just wanted to hear from a trucker, Don was it. Back in those days, we did whatever we had to.”

This couple from Ames, IA, trucked hard and fought hard to make trucking a better place to work.

Among their many “causes” was uniform licensing and permitting.

“It’s because of people like Don and Marlys and their work for OOIDA that truckers don’t have to deal with dozens of license plates all over their truck,” says OOIDA President Jim Johnston.

Don’s life was not unlike many of the other early board members. He bought his first truck at 16; served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II; and went back to trucking after the war. To be concise, Don expanded his area of operation and size of his equipment, got his own authority, permits and customers and continued trucking with Marlys until he “semi-retired” in the late ’90s. Don and Marlys joined OOIDA in 1980.

“Thirty years and counting —100,000 members and counting — un-numbered victories and counting,” says Don as he thinks about the long road that led to where the association is today.

“All of this did not ‘just happen.’ We were there working to make the voices of the professional truckers heard,” says Marlys. “We knew DC was the starting place where differences could be made.

“Don saw the vision that Jim Johnston had, and felt his efforts would be helpful with OOIDA. Taking an ordinary trucker who was willing to park his truck when needed, placing him before members of Congress, speaking at hearings, meeting with officials at the ICC, DOT, Executive White House, etc. was a challenge that was met with courage and straightforward honesty. Don began to establish credibility with U.S. lawmakers. But taking the time to get so involved was a task,” recalls Marlys.

“This was not Don’s idea of fun,” she says. “Arriving home after each ‘episode,’ he would get back in the truck in order to renew his sanity.”

Like many of the early board members, Don donated time and effort in those struggling days of OOIDA. He attended board meetings wherever they could get table and chairs together (many times at his own expense), helped establish the credibility of the organization, flew to DC when needed, and represented OOIDA in many other roles.

“Back then the membership was small … very small,” says Marlys. “Finances were limited … very limited. Groundwork had to be laid and education done at all levels of government so those in power would learn and understand who the professional truckers of the nation were, what they did and how legislation affected them positively or negatively. And that no one else was representing them.”

“OOIDA was to become the organization recognized as representing this large number of truckers.”

The Phippses, like other veterans of the early days of OOIDA, have many stories, all full of how difficult it was to work with all levels of government (state, federal, agencies) and the importance of opposing bad laws and speaking up aggressively on proposed legislation that would be beneficial and workable for all.

“We also share many good memories of victories (large and small), hours of working through problems (with folks like Dave Strickler, Bill Harwell, Cliff Owsley) and watching the membership grow to 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and on,” says Marlys. “OOIDA did a lot with a little because we had dedicated people who would give sacrificially of their time, energy and finances.”

The Phippses remember the time Don almost missed the flight out of DC because he was celebrating a victory with Jim and company. He remembers when he appeared before the Senate Transportation Committee, and when he attended a meeting for OOIDA in Ames, IA, with the president.

They can tell stories of when one of the officials from Kentucky met Marlys at an American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) meeting and asked, “Why is your husband suing me?” (Won that one, says Marlys.)

“Or when one of the officials from Texas stated, ‘Texas will never become a member of IFTA’” says Marlys. “Well, never is a long time, and Texas is a member.”

They recall how, in those days, as now, there were the negative truckers who would say, “why should I bother; it won’t do any good.”

“We proved them wrong,” says Marlys. “How about the ones who would say, ‘We’ll stand behind you,’ and when we needed them, they were standing so far behind they couldn’t be found. To the current board members and membership — does this all sound familiar?”

The Phippses offer this piece of advice to OOIDA’s current membership: Some things are still the same, just don’t get discouraged and keep on keeping on.

“The vision remains,” says Don. “We are not there yet, but we are closer than we were 30 years ago. The way has been eased in some areas, but the challenges, work and opportunities for additional positive change remain for those who are willing to sacrifice as those of us have done before. The foundation has been laid, and this generation can continue to build.

“May the next 30 years be as productive as the past 30, and may we have at least a million (or more) members by then.”