Phyllis Thede lives in Bettendorf, Iowa, with her husband, Dave, and their youngest daughter Mackenzie, a student at Scott Community College. Their two older daughters live in California: Acacia is the principal of Maryland Elementary in Vista, and Robin works as an actress and writer in Los Angeles. Phyllis and her family have been residents of Davenport and Bettendorf since 1980, when they moved from Northwest Iowa.

Phyllis was born in Chicago, and moved to Creston, Iowa, with her family. She attended Southwestern Community College, where she met Dave. They were married in 1974. Phyllis then attended Westmar College until Dave graduated in 1976 and she left to begin a career in education. After coming to the Quad Cities, Phyllis started as a para-educator with Davenport Community Schools in the library. In 2001, she became a secretary in the Media Center at North High School, where she still works in this capacity. During her time with the school district, she has served as union president, vice president, as a contract negotiator and grievance chair. She has also been on many committees in the district, including the superintendent search committee. She served on the state Minority Action Committee for 10 years.

Phyllis has been active in politics for many years. In 2002, she acted as campaign manager for two successful candidates for school board. In 2004, she organized rallies for Howard Dean and later for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. In 2006, she began her career representing the people of Davenport and Bettendorf when she ran for state Senate in District 41. Despite being able to campaign for only a few months, she lost a close election by just 436 votes.

Phyllis currently serves as the second vice chair for the Iowa Democratic Party.