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Jimmy Simmons Boulevard to honor LU president

Beaumont City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to rename a major campus thoroughfare Jimmy Simmons Boulevard.

The portion of University Drive between East Cardinal Drive and East Lavaca Street will now bear Simmons’ name to honor his accomplishments during his tenure as president of Lamar University, said City Manager Kyle Hayes.

Susan and Jimmy SimmonsSimmons is returning to the faculty this year after more than 14 years of service as president and 43 years with the university. By its action, the city recognizes Simmons’ contributions to Lamar University and honors the impact of his lifetime of work at Lamar University on all citizens of Beaumont, Hayes said.

“I really don’t deserve this, but I sure appreciate it,” Simmons said. “I will tell you that the most exciting place in Beaumont is now going to be the corner of Gilligan and Simmons,” referring to Jim Gilligan Way, honoring Lamar’s veteran head baseball coach.

Lamar University will join the city of Beaumont to commemorate the street naming at a ceremony starting at 11 a.m. FridayMarch 1, in McDonald Gym, part of the Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center. The public is being invited to the event, where Mayor Becky Ames will preside. 

Hayes presented City Council with the ordinance to rename the roadway. “Lamar has seen tremendous growth during Dr. Simmons’ presidency,” he said, noting that from the 1999 spring semester when he was selected as president to the fall semester of 2012, the university has experienced an increase in student enrollment from 7,810 to 14,675.
 
During his tenure as president, said Hayes, Simmons implemented a master plan to enhance the campus, most notably the five Cardinal Village residence halls, the new dining hall and the Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center.

And, he said, “While Simmons has been president, Lamar has made significant strides in academics, with the addition of new master’s and doctoral programs.”

The ordinance came before City Council after the council and the city Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the street renaming in a joint public hearing Feb. 18, said Stephen Richardson, planning manager for the city of Beaumont. 

The renaming program Friday will be a prelude to the only public event planned to honor Simmons and his wife, Susan. Also Tuesday, the mayor issued a proclamation declaring SaturdayMarch 2, as Susan and Jimmy Simmons Day in Beaumont.  

Susan and Jimmy SimmonsThat day coincides with “A Standing Ovation for Jimmy and Susan Simmons,” scheduled March 2 in the Montagne Center to recognize the couple for their leadership roles in the growth and success of the university.

The “Standing Ovation” celebration honoring the president and first lady will begin with the Lady Cardinals’ basketball game at 4 p.m. and continue with the Cardinals’ game at 6 p.m., special presentations during halftime of the men’s game and a reception on the arena floor afterward that will give guests an opportunity to personally thank the couple.

In issuing the proclamation, Ames joined The Texas State University System, Lamar faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community in celebrating the contributions of the Lamar president and first lady, “wishing Jimmy and Susan the very best as they enter another chapter in their lives together.”

Jimmy and Susan Simmons accepted the proclamation as they led a delegation of university executives, staff and students. “I can’t tell you what a wonderful relationship this university has with the city,” Simmons said. “It is a wonderful partnership.”

According to the proclamation: “James M. “Jimmy” Simmons and Susan Williams Simmons have shared the spotlight for more than four decades, orchestrating a bright future for the university while contributing their time, considerable talents and spirit of excellence to the Southeast Texas community and achieving professional success in worlds of the arts, education and business.”

The theme they chose for his presidential investiture – “Building Strength through Community” – signified a strong bond for the community, which they continued with “Red, White and You” and “Get Your Red On,” the proclamation continues. The momentum led to Lamar’s first comprehensive campaign, “Investing in the Future,” now approaching the $125 million mark.

President Simmons, with efforts supported and strengthened by Susan, led the university into a new era of dynamic growth, said the proclamation, with record enrollments and numerous examples of excellence, including significant strides in academics, online degree programs, enhanced admission and retention initiatives and a focus on scholarships for exceptional students. The return of football and marching band, as well as women’s soccer and softball, further distinguish the Simmons era.

Also, according to the proclamation, “Susan Simmons’ talents, leadership and perseverance have played an integral role in transforming the campus through landscaping and interior design, and have enhanced all facets of the university.”

The proclamation concludes: “Jimmy and Susan brought the campus together, creating a culture of excellence that permeates faculty, staff and students while sharing a vision founded on an unwavering dedication to Lamar students – their lasting legacy.”