CCAC honorees of Celebration of the Arts

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Cultivating an extended family and supporting Northeast Arkansas and its communities with a salute to all forms of the arts, Richard and Shirley Simmons reflect the mission of Clay County Arts Council. Support for the arts in Clay County and philanthropic endeavors through community service are fundamental parts of the Simmons' family life.

After a providential arranged date and almost a year of dating, Richard Simmons and Shirley Gremore decided to marry. On Nov. 14, 1964, wedding bells chimed and Richard and Shirley returned to the home farm in Rector. With a degree from Mississippi State University for Richard and nursing licensure from Baptist Memorial Hospital for Shirley, the couple set as their goal creating a beautiful home and family, farming family land.

According to a Holiday 2012 Delta Crossroads feature article by Nancy Kemp, all three of the Simmons' sons formed a partnership with each other and with their father after receiving degrees from Arkansas State University. The sons and father farm substantial acreage together. Stephen, David and Will Simmons remain close in both proximity and relationship with their mother and father. These parents have perfected the art of family.

"Neither of us is artistic in the least, but we love it (the arts)." Shirley said.

She continues by remarking how important she feels it is for arts activities to be available in this community. Mrs. Simmons tells about granddaughter Sophie participating in a holiday performance of The Nutcracker at The Collins Theater in Paragould.

"They turned people away," suggesting that given special events such as The Nutcracker, residents will line up in support of the arts.

Whether Mrs. Shirley realizes it or not, she is artistic, with her flair arising from a love for beauty. Shirley's talent for design is showcased in gorgeous tablescapes and a beautifully appointed home. In addition, Mrs. Shirley's creative talent extends to sewing, knitting and cooking.

She has created a family hub in her kitchen. Her children, grandchildren and family friends congregate there, enjoying conversation and cooking together. The grandchildren have favorite dishes that their grandmother makes for them and with them, each one treasuring the moments.

Kemp's Delta Crossroads story captures the essence of not only the Simmons' home at Christmas but their family unit. The story and photos call attention to culinary specialties such as Shirley's signature duck and dressing and homemade, luscious cinnamon rolls.

Perpetuating the family philosophy of service to others, Richard Simmons leads the charge. Through his endeavors to bring a higher quality of life to Northeast Arkansas, he made important contributions to this area through his seat in the Arkansas General Assembly. Between 1995 and 2000 as he served in that elected position, he was instrumental in gaining necessary funding for Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center, Crowley's Ridge Scenic Byway, and for the paved road to Chalk Bluff Historic Park outside St. Francis in northern Clay County.

Simmons continues to be politically active and influential in the region with his interest and involvement in the Farm Service Agency. As a symbol of his "blue-dog-Democrat" conservative philosophy, granddaughter Sydney Simmons painted a picture of a large blue dog and gifted it to her grandfather.

The couple cherishes the time spent following and supporting their grandchildren's activities. As a teen, Sydney was active with CCAC and was awarded a CCAC Scholarship. Even as a student at University of Arkansas, Sydney returns to Rector in support of Arts Council activities. Sophie Simmons also has participated in performance art and talent competitions. A student at Rector High School, Sam Simmons' sports activities keep the couple on the road and in his cheering section.

Shirley said in the Delta Crossroads article that "the farm shapes all our activities, interests, and way of life."

God's creation in green, blue, brown, tan and white is depicted in framed landscapes that adorn the family's Rector home. These pieces of art have been created by relatives. A quilt collection with special squares sewn by Richard's mother adds beauty and warmth to the décor.

Along with the farm, Richard and Shirley cherish their work with Rector First United Methodist Church. They serve on various church boards and Shirley teaches a Sunday School class.

Beauty in family and love for the land, support of the arts and service to the community will be celebrated as CCAC recognizes and honors Richard and Shirley Simmons at the Clay County Arts Council Celebration of the Arts. The event will be held at the Rector Community Center on Saturday, June 4, at 6:30 p.m. with dinner catered by Traveling Wisk. A silent auction featuring art pieces and artistic designs will be offered to support the scholarship fund.

Tickets are available at Honeysuckle & Home and Rector Water Department in Rector and Madpie's Tea Room and Shoppes and Suzy's in Piggott and from CCAC board members. The price is $35 for non-members and $30 for members. All seats are reserved. No tickets will be sold at the door.

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