Ferrum—A Positive Foundation for Life

Corene Martin Simms ’42

Corene Martin Simms ’42 shown here with her reunion display during the Centennial Celebration Homecoming.

In the early years of Ferrum College, the campus fulfilled many purposes for the surrounding communities. For Corene Martin Simms ’42, Ferrum College served as the secondary school she and many other “mountain children” attended. At that time, there was no secondary, or high school, education for children living in this incredibly rural community. Students wishing to continue past a seventh grade education went to Ferrum for such a degree.

Growing up with a widowed mother in the mountains, Simms was pushed to get an education by whatever means necessary. A teacher friend in the Methodist church took her to Ferrum and enrolled her in school. Part of attending Ferrum meant that she had to work to pay her tuition; in addition to getting a $40 scholarship, she worked several hundred hours per year at a pay rate of $.10 per hour. Things have changed drastically since those days, but Simms still remembers her days on campus with fondness.

Simms was on campus in December 1941, and notes the significance of that date of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, not only to the history of the country, but also to the make-up of the campus. “It changed the students; several students had brothers stationed in Hawaii and many boys left shortly thereafter to serve in the military.” Simms remembers that many of her classmates shared their goodbyes to the campus in the twice-weekly chapel services. “Things were totally different then—there was no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, no card playing,” she recalls. The focus of the students was on education, faith, family, and the events taking place in the world at the time.

Following graduation, Simms returned to her mother’s home in Bassett, Virginia. She did not follow in the paths of many of her friends who took wartime support positions in Washington, D.C. Instead, she chose to take an office position in Henry County and was married not long after. Widowed in 1962, she went on to college in pursuit of a degree in education, which she received after attending both Averett and Radford Universities. Simms remarried in late 1963 and taught elementary school until her retirement in 1984. During those years, Simms took advantage of many opportunities to travel the world with various colleges and universities. She traveled abroad with Ferrum College students and the president’s wife, Mrs. Arthur, in 1969 and in 1970, including once to Scandinavia. Following the advice of Mrs. Craig, former Dean of Girls at Ferrum, she was able to take several trips to China with Radford University. Additionally, she went on a mission trip to Mexico with Bluefield College.

Widowed again in 2006, Simms stays busy at her home in Fairlawn, Virginia. She is active in her church and is a 40-year member of her weekly bridge club. Simms notes that her roots are in Franklin County and she loves to return to the area to reminisce about her time there. “I’m thankful that Ferrum was there to further my education and that the teachers were so dedicated,” she says. She feels that graduating from Ferrum set her on the path for her life’s decisions and laid the foundation for her constant efforts to follow the Ferrum College motto, “Not Self, But Others.”  In following that motto, Simms began teaching GED classes to at-risk young men in a detention center; for two years, she taught classes twice a week and was able to assist more than 80 boys during that time. “The faculty and staff at Ferrum were such a big influence on the life choices I made,” says Simms.

Recently, Simms returned to the campus for the Centennial Celebration activities. “I was on campus for three days, and I hardly knew my way around as things have changed so much! Dr. Braaten has done a wonderful job moving us forward,” she says. Simms was able to locate a copy of the Class of 1942 album to bring to the celebration, as well as find missing photographs of classmates and add them to the albums of the College. She was able to visit with old friends and put together a wonderful display, in conjunction with Director of Alumni Tracy Sigmon Holley ’96. “There have been a lot of social changes in our world, but I was glad to see that Ferrum College has not gotten away from its motto,” notes Simms.

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