A tale of persistent love
by Dawne Belloise
Fads, fashions and even courting techniques may change through generations, but time has proven that love will never go out of style. Phil Chamberland’s story of finding his forever love is one of indefatigability, heavily peppered with humor. His wife of now nearly three decades, Missy, has a tale of realization, and perhaps a bit of acceptance, in that beautiful dance of courtship that can transcend any obstacle.
Phil’s first words as a child were French, as he was born to a Canadian Québécois mother and was raised just two and a half miles from the most northeastern border in very rural Maine. With 11 hardworking children, the family farmed 80 acres of potatoes, along with other food and animals. There were practically no days off, with rotating chores for the kids, both before and after school.
“In the spring we planted and cultivated, we baled hay in the summer, grew oats and buckwheat for the pigs, and in the fall there was the harvest and then back to school. But when there was time off in the evenings we played hard, because we worked hard,” Phil remembers. He graduated in 1978 with the same kids he went to kindergarten with. Phil garnered many abilities and experiences through growing up in a close family with shared responsibilities. Those values are still reflected in every aspect of his life today.
“I enlisted in the Air Force in November of my senior year of high school with not a clue as to my direction. I wanted to go out and see the world, and except for Canada,” Phil laughs, “I had never been out of the state of Maine.” His basic training took him first to Texas, then Lowery in Denver for tech school as a munitions specialist.
“I loaded bombs and missiles onto F4 aircraft and the last two years I troubleshot the weapons systems,” Phil says. While in tech school, recruits are given a “dream sheet,” to list their top six choices of bases to be stationed. Phil listed only U.S. bases so, naturally, he was assigned to Ramstein, Germany, for his first tour of duty. He arrived in 1978.
Missy started out a self-defined tomboy Air Force brat who attended 13 different schools in 12 years between Germany and the U.S. Although she spent half her young life in Germany until she was 18, the outdoorsy, sports-oriented daughter of an Army general missed America, so when she graduated from high school in 1980, she bolted back to the states with a clear idea of what she wanted to become—or so she thought.
“I went straight to Columbia University to study chemical engineering and I didn’t like it as much as I thought,” Missy said of the full scholarship that landed her in New York City. “I was very isolated in a lab environment,” but she tells of her friends who were also in the engineering department with the intent to go on to medical school and become surgeons. Missy liked the idea of combining the studies. While her friends were taking all the fun electives at university, Missy enrolled in electives like organic chemistry and biology, but all those arduous classes allowed her to graduate in 1984 with a double major, an engineering degree in metallurgy and materials science and one in pre-med. She went on to Atlanta’s Emory University to get her M.D., which she completed in 1988.
“I decided on orthopedics before I went to med school. I felt that being an orthopedic surgeon, and being a good one, would require extensive knowledge in bio-mechanical engineering,” Missy says. She volunteered at St. Luke’s in NYC for two years, just to see if it’s what she really wanted, and by the time she finished, she knew where her path was.
While Phil was stationed in Germany, he met Missy’s brother in early 1979 and the two became best friends. He was often invited over to watch TV at their house or for dinner (Missy claims he intentionally hung out at 5 p.m., knowing he’d be asked to stay) and one afternoon Phil vividly remembers, “In walks this bright-eyed redhead in a spandex softball uniform. My jaw dropped. She was 17, I was 18.” His eyes still sparkle at the memory of their first encounter. He ended up taking her to her prom that spring.
But Missy was rather ambivalent about his wide-eyed dreams and he laughs, “I thought we were dating, but she had higher ambitions than a farm boy and I was too dense to realize we were just friends. She was trying to break it off, trying to say, ‘See ya later, I’m going off to NYC and you’re not in my future.’ I told her, ‘I don’t know why you’re treating me this way because don’t you know you’re gonna marry me some day?’”
Missy chimes in with unshakeable resolve, “I screamed, ‘Over my dead body!’ and slammed the door in his face.” Phil admits, “That set me back six months. I’m standing there in the hallway thinking—so, you mean there’s a chance?” It was at this point in their non-relationship that Missy went off to university.
When Missy returned to her family in Germany for summer break, Phil took her out and, once again, he thought they were dating; however, she still figured they were just friends and as he puts it, she ditched him again and went back to Columbia and her studies.
“When I filled out my second dream sheet for my next tour of duty, I listed southeast U.S. bases, particularly Georgia, so I could be close to Atlanta,” Phil says. He schemed since he knew Missy’s first choice of medical schools was Emory in Atlanta and besides, her brother was living there. “I ended up in Valdosta, Ga. When I got out of the Air Force in the summer of ‘82, I moved in with Missy’s brother in Atlanta.”
Meanwhile, Missy was thinking, “He’s the ultimate stalker. I was in New York thinking, ‘Oh no, he’s moved in with my brother!’” Phil was hoping for more dates although he chuckles, “Apparently, we hadn’t been dating before…”
That same summer of ‘82, Missy had a stereo she wanted to get to New York and Phil offered to drive it to her on his way up to visit his family in Maine. He wound up staying with Missy for a couple of days and the two toured all the sights of the city. “We had such a good time. I was her friend and she was my girl,” he assumed, and on his return trip back down to Atlanta, two weeks later, he visited Missy again for a few days.
“He wore me down,” Missy says. She acquiesced, and Phil finally got that kiss he’d waited so long for and notes, “Now she’s almost acting like my girlfriend, and we’re hanging out and having a great time… and then my car gets stolen. It was the day I was leaving to go back to Atlanta. We had loaded up the car with all of my belongings from the storage unit in Maine. We went out for pizza and when we came back…”
Phil’s voice drops off as he describes his beloved ride. “It was a 1972 Chevelle, black on black, that I had completely restored. The cops told me it probably ended up in a chop shop, which really hurt me.” The ever-effervescent Phil bounced back though. “On the bright side, I got to stay with Missy for a couple more days because I had no way home,” to which she chides, “I couldn’t get rid of him. I thought he was joking [about the car theft]. He was always joking, he had a great sense of humor.”
After that, the couple’s relationship was fortified and they started racking up long distance phone bills to the tune of $300 a month, back in those days of land lines. “I’d call every day. At that point, we both thought we were dating,” Phil says victoriously. “Lo and behold in 1984, Missy moves to Atlanta to attend Emory. I drove to NYC to haul her and her stuff down in my ‘52 Chevy Custom Deluxe. It barely ran. I pulled it out of a junkyard.”
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Missy was focused on her complicated studies, living in an apartment while Phil had bought a house. In 1986, Phil popped the question, gave her a ring, and they married on the first day of spring in 1987. “It’s 29 years this March,” Missy shakes her head, bewildered at the passing decades and adds, “Man, that’s a long time,” and she laughs heartily at the recognition that she wasn’t initially even interested in Phil’s persistent pursuit. They managed to produce two kids, Erika, 24, now studying at her mother’s alma mater at Columbia, and their son, Joey, 21, who’s a local web designer and computer programmer in Gunnison.
As the world was turning and they were building a life together, Missy had a distinct picture of where she wanted to live and a lifestyle. They set out to find a hometown based on eight criteria: It had to have a ski area with 1,500 feet of vertical drop and 200 inches of snow a year; a four-year college; gold medal trout fishing waters; a population of fewer than 10,000; a hospital with a good operating room; a golf course; accessibility via an airport; a lake nearby for boating—and they wanted all these amenities within a 25-mile radius.
They got out their map, colored pencils, White Book of Skiing, Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and Small Places Almanac and discovered Gunnison.
Since Western State College had a lot of sports, it ranked high for Missy, who’s now been taking care of WSC athletes since 1994 when they arrived in the Gunnison Valley and she hung out a shingle for her own orthopedic practice, Chamberland SportMed.
While living in Gunnison, they bought 70 acres just south of Crested Butte in 1996, with a river running through it so Missy can fly fish. They built a log home, moved up with the kids, and Phil explains, “That’s how I got into excavation, because we needed a road, foundation, septic, landscaping, all that stuff. Being a farm boy, I felt that I could do it all myself. I bought some old equipment and thought I’d sell it when I was through but that didn’t happen.”
Friends started asking him to do their excavation work, which blossomed into his company, Gunnison Valley Construction. Phil seems to have found his calling, though, in community-oriented service, as he’s served simultaneously on many boards and committees since moving to the area. In 2010, he ran for District 3 Gunnison County Commissioner and won. He ran unopposed in 2014 but says he won’t run for a third term because he believes in term limits; after this one is up Phil will focus on digging holes. “It’s a full-time job as commissioner and my business slowed down quite a bit.”
Seven years ago, while Phil was busy running for commissioner, Missy took up playing the ukulele. It helped her through the dreaded “work burnout” and her daughter was heading to college and Missy needed a hobby to maintain sanity. The following year, she had a guitar, which led her into writing songs. “I’ve been to Nashville about half a dozen times in an effort to learn how to write better songs,” says the woman who has more than 200 original compositions, two of them co-written with Dean Dillon.
And overcoming her shyness, she now performs live in venues all over the valley. “I’m touched. I can’t stop. I love this as much as I love being an orthopedic surgeon in the area of sports medicine.”
From a tenuous beginning, the couple has carved out a life together in their chosen home. Looking back, Missy offers this advice to would-be romantics seeking the real deal: “All you girls out there playing hard to get, it’s probably the better road to take,” to which Phil grins. “I tell everybody that we dated for seven years before we got married, but Missy corrects me and says the first three years was called stalking,” he said.
Both agree that what keeps then together is, “We’re very good friends and almost always kind and considerate to each other, and when times are rough, go back to when you first met. And for us, we’re both serious about ‘til death do us part. When it gets rough we both realize we’ll get through it one way or another,” and for them, every day is Valentine’s Day.