RIPLEY - Rick Simmons had a love for his hometown of Ripley and the Jackson County community that is hard to match.
He illustrated that love for many years as the publisher for The Jackson Herald.
Simmons, who helped run the paper owned for many years by his family, died early Friday morning (November 8) at Hubbard House in Charleston following a long illness. Simmons died much too young at the age of 57. He had been in poor health for the past several years.
He managed to do plenty during his life, including helping his mother, Dot, handle the day-to-day operations of the Herald.
“He did it all. Not only writing content for the paper, but selling ads, circulation, press runs. He did it all,” said long-time friend and former Herald co-worker Hank Gibson.
The two started working together at the paper in February of 1978. Gibson had been a police officer for the City of Ripley when he was asked by the Simmons family to come at work at the Herald.
It had long been Rick’s mission in life to be involved in fire safety or to work as a golf pro. Instead, he put those dreams aside to keep the family business running strong. The paper and his beloved Jackson County community moved to the top of his priority list.
Keith Simmons, Rick’s late father, had suffered a heart attack in early 1978. Both he and Gibson were asked by Mrs. Simmons to come on board and help out.
“We started the same day (at the paper),” Gibson said.
Just a few short weeks later, the unthinkable happened and Keith Simmons died while vacationing at Myrtle Beach.
“Rick put his heart and soul into the paper,” Gibson said.
He noted that while he had set out to become a newspaperman, Simmons worked hard to become one of the best.
While covering the news and sports events of the county, Gibson and Simmons grew close. “We were like brothers,” he said. “We had known each other since junior high, but we spent so much time together at the paper. It was a wonderful time.”
Simmons was a gifted writer who couldn’t type. He could crank out lengthy stories on a legal pad faster than most people could produce one on a typewriter or computer.
While he didn’t miss anything news-related, he had a true passion for writing sports. He had an athletic background as an outstanding golfer for both Ripley High School, where he graduated in 1974, and Glenville State College.
Simmons changed the face of sports pages in Jackson County, bringing a lot of flare to the coverage with features and sidebars. His “Sports In And Around Jackson County” column was a must-read each week. Simmons always had the youth of Jackson County’s best interest at heart.
Page 2 of 3 - “He sent us to Morgantown (to see WVU play) as a team, the paper did, several times,” said Frank Marino, who guided Ripley football to a successful period over 26 seasons from 1977-2000.
For some of those youngsters it was their first and possibly to this day the only time in their lives to have had the chance to witness a Mountaineer game.
When Marino came to Ripley in the summer of 1977, he and Keith Simmons became fast friends. Less than a year later, Keith Simmons was gone. Rick did his best to carry on the friendship with Marino.
“The thing people maybe didn’t know about Rick was just how compassionate he was,” Marino said.
He utilized his position with the paper to help bring a lot of good to the school system of Jackson County.
“Rick was one of my best friends when I was principal at Ripley High,” said Jack Wiseman, who is now a member of the county’s Board of Education. “He was just a great, unassuming good friend.”
Besides the paper, Simmons loved Ripley’s huge Fourth of July celebration and served as its director for many years.
“He was dedicated to the Fourth of July,” said current director John McGinley. “He appointed me parade chairman one year and I did it for two years before taking over. He made it easy for me with all the work and notes he had. He was close to both of my parents (the late Skip and Willa McGinley). It was an honor to follow in his footsteps.”
Simmons was a 17-year member of the Ripley Volunteer Fire Department and a former member of the Jackson County EMS.
The family sold the paper to Smith Incorporated in 1995 and Simmons moved to Glenville, where he became involved in myriad of duties including serving as the head golf coach at Glenville State College, where he had once starred. He was named the West Virginia Conference Golf Coach of the Year in 2002. He was also selected as the state’s top high athletic director while serving in that capacity at Glenville-based Gilmer County High School.
Simmons’ health took a turn for the worse while living in Glenville.
“One day he was driving down the road and he lost all eyesight,” Gibson said of Simmons, who had also endured a liver transplant at about the same time.
Simmons dealt with the blindness for the last several years of his life. He would spend those years in Ravenswood, living next door to former Red Devil head football coach Dick Sturm.
“Rick was a unique individual. He and his father had always given Ravenswood kids tremendous coverage in the newspaper. That’s when I first got to know Rick,” Sturm said. “Rick was in favor of all the kids of the county, both Ripley and Ravenswood.”
Page 3 of 3 - By being his neighbor, Sturm said the two became very close the last few years.
“I just admired his attitude,” Sturm said. “Despite his illnesses and his blindness, he wanted to remain independent. Rick had good neighbors. The people he rented from were wonderful caregivers. And then he had some other wonderful caregivers who were with him daily. Despite the complexities of his problems health-wise, he was always just the most jovial person to talk to.”
It was that personality which made Simmons the popular individual he was, dating back to his high school and college days and on to his his time running The Jackson Herald.
“Rick had the greatest laugh in the world,” Marino said.