Ferrum Prepared Simmons for a Better Life
Bob Simmons ’63 never thought he would attend college. Growing up in West Virginia, he was part of a family that valued a strong work ethic over an education. Working full time since the age of 12, Simmons focused only on what was required to graduate from high school, and he was the first in his family to do so.
Simmons began dating Judy, his wife, as a sophomore in high school; her family emphasized the importance of higher education, and she was encouraged to marry someone who also held a college degree. As time passed, Simmons’ full-time work at DuPont was not fulfilling him, and he realized he wanted to be more than a laborer. His desire was to go to Virginia Tech, but he knew that his grades and lack of funding would make admission there a challenge. Simmons decided to apply to several smaller schools and junior colleges in hopes that a fresh start and hard work would give him the background he needed for a larger four-year school. After being turned down by several colleges, he had nearly lost hope. Unbeknownst to him, Judy sent in an application to Ferrum College on his behalf. He received a letter from Ferrum shortly thereafter, granting him admission to a summer program. Simmons’ first look at the campus of Ferrum was in June 1962, and it has been a special part of his life ever since. After one and a half years, he graduated from Ferrum Junior College and was granted admission to Virginia Tech, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree.
“Ferrum took a chance on me and gave me the start toward the dream and the lifestyle we wanted to achieve,” says Simmons. Following graduation from Virginia Tech, Simmons returned to work at DuPont and retired some 37 years later after holding myriad positions within the company. He and Judy moved to Smith Mountain Lake, where Simmons became involved in the community through various civic and church organizations. As a member of the Lions Club, he sat on the board responsible for awarding annual scholarships to deserving Franklin County students. “Sitting through interviews with students each year really gave me an understanding of how many students need assistance to go to college,” says Simmons. He believes that his degree from Virginia Tech would not have been possible without his Ferrum College preparation. Over the years the Simmonses lost touch with Ferrum. Simmons fondly remembers visiting campus for the Folklife Festival, and the couple attended some Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre productions. Moving to Smith Mountain Lake, where they connected with current and former Ferrum College staff members, was partly responsible for bringing the Simmonses back to Ferrum.
“We believe it is important to try and help students who could not achieve their dreams without additional money,” says Judy. So, through a friend who had connections with Ferrum, Simmons contacted the College and made arrangements to include Ferrum College in their estate plans. “I want to help other students who are like I was reach their goals,” notes Simmons. Both he and Judy feel that smaller institutions are often overlooked by donors because they don’t have as many alumni or as much publicity as larger institutions. They also want to encourage other Ferrum friends and alumni to do what they can to assist current and future students. “Ferrum gave me the opportunity to succeed, and I’m sure there are students out there who will succeed without help, but some will surely fail without additional support. I want to help those students and encourage them to keep up their drive and desire to get an education,” says Simmons. “Our dream was to become more educated, do better, and make better lives for ourselves and our children than what we came from. Ferrum College was the stepping stone to make that dream a reality.”