Lois Simmons forever changed how I perceived Christianity. She was my dean at Gem State Academy, a 60ish southern lady in slacks. I was a 14-year-old atheist, and I wanted everyone to know it. I was eager to pinpoint hypocrisy and fallacy in my parent’s religion. Mrs. Simmons made that very difficult to do.

It was the little things. Teenage girls en masse can be an absolute plague, but not for Lois Simmons. She opened her door to every knock, even at 3 am on her night off. She fed the girls, disciplined them gently, drove them to the doctor’s office, and listened to their heartbreaks. Her Christianity wasn’t about dogma, though she respected the rules of the church deeply.

Her Christianity was about love—shown in quiet moments with unfaltering consistency.

She began deaning at Ozark Academy in 1970, continuing for the next 26 years. In the meantime, she raised her boys as a single mother. Her divorce had been not only biblically sound, but necessary for the well-being of her two sons, Lee and Kent. And so they thrived—Lois would have it no other way. She told them, “People are going to expect less of you because you come from a broken home. I’m here to tell you the Lord and I expect no less from you. You will not fall by the wayside.”

With their mother’s love wrapped around them and supported by an unfaltering faith in Jesus, Lee and Kent prospered. They both married and pursued careers in medicine, continuing their mother’s legacy of compassion. Kent is a nurse practitioner and Lee is a certified registered nurse anesthetist. Lois’ two grandchildren furthered the tradition of service: Brian Simmons is a youth pastor and Zachary Simmons is finishing his surgical residency at Wright University

Patience and Compassion

Among the many lives Lois touched was a girl named Winter Sigh. She arrived in Idaho in 1995, nervous to be the only African American attending Gem State Academy. She says, “I had heard horror stories of how people my color weren’t welcome in the Northwest. Mrs. Simmons picked me up from the airport and was truly kind. The silences weren’t awkward, just warm, and she had a way of making me feel like it was okay to be different from the other girls and yet still a part of the dorm.”

Lois’ one-time assistant dean, Deb Hornbacher, was grateful for her guidance. “She demonstrated that unconditional love and patience is the best way to handle any situation. I’ve yet to measure up to the high standard she set for me.”

Mrs. Simmons saw me baptized my sophomore year, and she retired to Missouri the year I graduated. She belongs to the Pittsburg (Kansas) Seventh-day Adventist Church. Last summer she celebrated her 80th birthday. She has remained the unjudgmental voice of wisdom and compassion, of strength and love in my life.

Recently, her church asked that she take a young girl with nowhere to go into her home. She did, of course. If anyone knows what a troubled girl needs, it’s Lois. If you were to ask her, though, she’d take no credit for any of the good she has done, any of the lives she has blessed. She’s merely a servant, allowing her love of the Lord to work through her.

 Author Therese Oneill attended Gem State Academy from 1992-96.