ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Sara Simmonds, the longtime philanthropist known to many in Central Louisiana for not only her unwavering support for our community, but also our military, passed away Friday evening at the age of 101.
Those who knew Simmonds loved her for her giving spirit, her devotion to those who have served our country, her fearlessness, and her way of holding a good conversation over a glass of Wild Turkey. She was in every way an unforgettable person.
"Her spirit was so, so contagious," said her friend, Glenda Stock. "And, her enthusiasm just for living was something to be admired. She touched so many more people than she ever even knew just by her mere presence."
In 2004, Simmonds founded the Apple Pie Brigade, a group of volunteers who would wake up before dawn and stay up late as troops deployed on their next mission or returned home to their families. She would welcome them with a hot apple pie and a cold drink, a small slice of Americana, a simple way to thank them for their service.
"Oh my goodness. These people are doing so much for us. This is just a thank you," she told us in an interview one time.
"When they would come by to get their apple pies, she'd talk to them and told them she'd be there when they got home," said another friend, Charlie Elliott, who met Simmonds through his work at MillionAir. "She had a following. When they were coming back from combat, they would talk to each other and tell you about it. Wonder if that lady is going to be there when we come home?"
Simmonds was one who preferred to work behind the scenes, like the time she donated musical instruments to the Ray Laborde Correctional Center so inmates could learn how to play classical music. And, you probably saw her in the front row at a Youth Challenge Program graduation or two. She was a huge supporter of all things Ft. Polk and Camp Beauregard. In her spare time, she was also a member of the Junior League of Alexandria, the Rotary Club of Alexandria, and she played a vital role in the preservation of the whooping crane.
"A lot of things she did here, people did not know," said Alice Scarborough, another friend and the executive director of the Kent House, where Simmonds often volunteered at. "We knew because we worked with her and all that. You hear about Renaissance men all the time, but she was probably the woman in that same category. She did everything. She was involved in a lot of stuff. We will miss her dearly."
And, boy was she bold. As she prepared to turn 99 in 2017, she decided to go skydiving. Still not one to shy away from helping others, she used the opportunity to jump out of a plane as a chance to raise money for the Youth Challenge Program.
Simmonds recruited some friends to do it with her. And, if you couldn't hang with her up there, she probably called you a chicken.
"Sara was a ball of fire," said friend and president of the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce, Deborah Randolph. "She had a great sense of humor. But, she was also a strong, tough person. When something needed to get done, she set about that task and failure was not an option."
Last year when Simmonds turned 100, she had a big bash at the Hotel Bentley. We weren't just celebrating 100 years, Simmonds had just beaten the West Nile virus. And, for a brief moment, someone who generally shied away from the spotlight stopped to soak it all in.
All those people there who had been thankful to have her in their lives, were there celebrating a milestone and a woman who was one in a million.
"She loved, she fought and she marshaled resources to accomplish her missions, which were many," said former Alexandria mayor, Jacques Roy, noting her devotion to the military and a clean community. "Sara would have made a great mayor of Alexandria because she got it. She knew it ultimately was about the little things that can turn into big things if left unchecked - like litter. On these two things, our armed forces and keeping our community clean, she could not be moved. And, because of that commitment to ideals and tasking her life toward them, she can be measured, without equivocation, as one of the greatest Alexandrians in our city's history."
"That's what living is all about, isn't it? Love and helping other people," Simmonds said it best.
Simmonds was preceded in death by her first husband, Robert Allen, who died during World War II, and her second husband, the late Dr. Noel Simmonds. She is survived by a niece.
A memorial service will be held for on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at noon at First United Methodist Church in Alexandria.