Simmons will serve as grand marshal

Thursday, August 29, 2002

"All roads lead to Rector on Labor Day," former State Rep. Richard Simmons says proudly.

With his wife, Shirley, by his side, Richard will serve as this year's Rector Labor Day Parade grand marshal, continuing a longtime Simmons family tradition of volunteer work at the event.

"I'm really honored to have been asked," he said. "Shirley and I are doing it for all our family, especially my brother."

Younger brother, Ralph, a member of the Woodland Heights Cemetery Commission for many years, recently passed away after a brave battle with cancer.

"We'll be riding for him," Richard said.

Richard and Ralph's mother, Cleta, also lends a hand at the picnic, selling tickets for the noon meal at the community center.

"Opening up the community center to the public on Labor Day has really contributed to the quality of the picnic," Richard said.

All proceeds from the picnic support the maintenance of Woodland Heights, which lies on beautiful rolling hills at the western edge of town.

"The cemetery is so pretty," Shirley said. "That's due to the Labor Day Picnic."

"It's always been unbelievable the way people will turn out and volunteer their time to make sure the picnic is a success," Richard said. "It's always been that way ever since I can remember."

Simmons' first memory of attending the Labor Day Picnic was around 1947 "as a little boy...World War II was over." He later worked in the "Sunday stand" with Albert Dalton, the hardware store owner; Al Long, the Ark-Mo Power manager; and Rector Postmaster Donald McCluney, a relative.

"That was the only one open on Sunday," Richard said, and it served barbecue and hamburgers, the same as today.

"Rector has always had the best picnic in the Mid-South," he said. "We've always attracted the statewide political candidates."

Richard said former President Bill Clinton visited Rector every year while he was governor except in 1992. Arkansas Congressman E.C. "Took" Gathings "always came to eat lunch with Donald McCluney."

An interesting bit of political history that Richard relates occurred in 1951 when his father, Auda, "had to go to the little cropduster airstrip and pick up a man running for governor by the name of Orval Faubus. Nobody had ever heard of him. Nobody knew who he was."

Shirley agreed the picnic has always been popular with state officials. Rodney Slater, formerly of the Arkansas High and Transportation Department and transportation secretary under the Clinton administration, remarked that "your community is very fortunate to be able to have a picnic of this quality."

"We're very fortunate and lucky and blessed," Shirley said.

She noted the picnic is a joyous occasion for all ages and generations.

"They're all having a good time," she said.

Richard praised the Rector Band, "one of the most outstanding things about the parade."

He said the young people will play a vital role in the picnic's future.

"I'm really impressed with this younger bunch that's coming on," he said. "They pick that spirit up and go right on with it. I have no doubt that it will always continue."

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