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FRJC Alums Reminisce During Recent Lunch
9/3/2014 1:00:00 AM
By: Sarah Haas, Communications Director

(PARK HILLS) – Several Flat River Junior College alumni recently visited the Mineral Area College campus and reflected on the opportunities the “good old junior college” provided each of them more than 50 years ago.

The alumni, vintage 1956-61, attended MAC’s predecessor while Dr. Gayle Simmons served as the college’s dean. Simmons, who also attended FRJC and now lives at Farmington Presbyterian Manor, was on hand at the alumni luncheon.

Simmons and the alumni agreed, many of them would have never achieved a four-year degree without FRJC. In his role as FRJC dean and alum, Simmons is again sponsoring his namesake fund-raiser, the Simmons Match, as a method for alumni to give back to their alma mater, Mineral Area College.

Though most alumni at the luncheon did not have direct contact with Simmons while at FRJC, they said they realized the things he did for FRJC students which helped form what MAC is today. Several remembered Simmons’s impact on academics and student activities.

Ron “Scotty” Scott (FRJC 1959-61), now of O’Fallon, said while he never personally knew Simmons as a student, “back then, it was a really good thing if you didn’t have a personal acquaintance with the dean. Meant you were behaving! I did, however, know he managed to find funds to support our baseball and track programs. Sports meant a lot to us back then. So, Dean Simmons’ interest in the students and our extracurricular activities definitely made my FRJC days rewarding.” Tuition also came up in the alums’ conversation. Ann (Holloway) Arnett, originally from Elvins, said at the time, her hometown was considered out-of-district, so she paid more to attend. “In 1956, my total tuition was $80 and, believe me, and that was a major struggle for my family.” Caren (Pruett) Black also remembered the extra charges incurred for out-of-district residents. “I think I paid $129 for a year,” she said. “And, although I didn’t think of it at the time, I’m sure Dean Simmons was responsible for our safe and secure learning environment--something we all took for granted.” Francis Vogt, from Ste. Genevieve, said he lived in Flat River during the week and paid $140 per semester for his tuition.

Ron Farver, from Ferguson, explained he came south to attend college because “it was my dad’s idea. He thought I needed a change in environment and some new life experiences. I lived in a room in a boarding house. My room cost me $6 and my board for two meals per day for five days was $9. It seems unbelievable given today’s prices. Without FRJC, many of us would never have gotten where we are today.”

Several alums noted Simmons’s efforts to secure exceptional faculty members, specifically Dr. Carl Painter, who taught math and physics. Others remembered Simmons as an exceptional education psychology instructor who negotiated to have Washington University teach education classes on campus.

“That had to be one of Dean Simmons’s most significant contributions,” said alumna Barb (Thurman) Stotler. “At the time, $25 per credit hour was steep. But, we never had to leave the campus and were able to earn our degrees. Many teachers—primarily women—were able to earn a degree while raising a family, too.”

Sports stories were flying around the alumni table, as several were FRJC athletes.

Marvin Hahn, FRJC 1959-61, asked if anyone remembered Pedro Martinez, a Cuban student who approached Simmons about starting a baseball team. Stotler said he remembered Simmons found a little money to start the team, “and I think Coach Sechrest may have been the first coach.” When FRJC track was mentioned, Hahn said Painter was the track coach. “Dr. Painter was always out running on the streets much like we see today,” he said. “Back then, he was the only one running. He was a bit ahead of his time.” Scott, Black and Stotler burst into laughter as they reminisced about filling Painter’s personal VW van with seven or eight track kids to travel to Lexington, Ky., for the big state junior college track meet. “With eight guys in the van, I remember wondering if it would ever make it up the hills at 30 miles per hour,” chuckles Ron. “But, when we were on the downhill, we were doing about 80!”

Hahn said he reconnected with Simmons in the late 1990s when Simmons and his wife, the late Rowena Brown Simmons, started a local chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, a society for professional educators. Simmons is a 58-year member of PDK, is founder of three PDK chapters and he holds the organization’s Distinguished Service Key.

Simmons, who serves on the Mineral Area College Foundation Board, and his late wife launched the Simmons Match Campaign. Now in the sixth year of matching, the program has generated approximately $322,000 in purchasing power for training equipment, software and career-related modules for Mineral Area College through the Enhancement Grant.

Dr. Simmons matches 50 percent of all donations made to the Enhancement Grant until funds expire. The donations also receive up to a $3-for-$1 match from Department of Elementary & Secondary Education boosting the value to increase up to 600 percent. Anyone who wishes to donate can call (573) 518-2114, visit www.mineralarea.edu/foundation, or send a check to Mineral Area College Foundation, PO Box 1000, Park Hills, MO 63601.

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