If you know the name Mae Simmons, chances are you know it because you've spent time at the park named after her. Perhaps you've attended a function at the Community Center, fished in the lake, taken photos in front of the waterfall, hiked or biked the trails. But most of us rarely know much about the people whose names appear on placards or road signs in our communities. Over the last two years, several volunteers and members of our team took on a considerable undertaking, diving deep into our archives to piece together a narrative of our 75-year history. Through the process, we discovered that Simmons was a United Way volunteer for 18 years during her career at Lubbock ISD.
Career and Volunteerism
Most notably, Simmons was a member of the Community Planning Council for many years. The council was tasked with researching community needs and creating pathways to sustainable solutions to these needs. Many local nonprofits were founded as a result of the council's work, including United Way Community Partners Guadalupe-Parkway Neighborhood Centers and Upbring. Reading through the reports that came from the council, it's not hard to imagine Simmons in those meetings. No doubt she had her students in mind.
Over her career, she taught in a one-room, all-black schoolhouse in Henrietta (20 miles southeast of Wichita Falls) and at Dunbar School and Ella Iles Elementary School both of which were all-black schools. Simmons later served as principal at Iles for 12 years before returning to the classroom at Hodges Elementary School. She retired in 1972.
A Lubbock Avalanche-Journal profile of Simmons describes the frustrations she faced as an educator: "Her African-American student population faced harsh living conditions. Many such students, including those from migrant farmworker families, attended school sporadically, and they often left town after the fall harvest.
"Some were part of families unable to afford frame houses. They often purchased or leased vacant lots and built dugouts on them. Partly, as a result, teachers of black children never knew how many of their students would make it through each term."
Simmons showed great determination to advance her own learning on behalf of her students. In 1946, she left Texas to complete a graduate degree at the University of Iowa. At the time, Texas universities barred African Americans from graduate studies. After completing her degree, Simmons stood out above her peers. In the 40s and 50s, the majority of public school teachers (white or black) did not have advanced degrees.
Outlined in the report pages of the Community Planning Council are varied issues of equity. The reports ask questions, research the need, and make recommendations to address the needs. The reports and the work that went into them are quality research that looked into the varied needs of all South Plains residents. We won't claim that they always got it right, but we will say that having council members like Simmons ensured they got closer to doing the right thing more often.
In addition to Simmons work with the council, she also chaired the "Women's Division" for the Annual Campaign, leading an "army of women" to address critical needs on the South Plains through financial donations. There is certainly a discussion to be had around the existence of the Women's Division and the inequity issues that surround that topic. However, here we will just point out that Simmons, a black woman, chaired this division which certainly speaks again to the remarkable woman she was.
Beyond her work for United Way, she served on the boards for the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Girl Scouts, and the YWCA of Lubbock and volunteered for the Boy Scouts and the YMCA, a former United Way partner.
A Legacy to Learn From
Mae Simmons legacy - her impact on our organization, the school system, and Lubbock as a whole - bear witness to how far we have come and how important it is that we remain committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all people on the South Plains.
In 1970, the city of Lubbock dedicated the park and community center to Simmons - part of the Canyon Lakes System, the area is one of the most picturesque and beautiful parks in the city.