Jean S. Simmons
February 17, 1929 – April 30, 2019
Jean’s Story as told by her daughters, Shari Zint and Sue Goodwin
Jean Simmons was born on February 17, 1929 on the Snow family farm outside of Almena, Kansas. Christened Emma Jean Snow, she was the first of four children born to Nina Grace Snow and Wilbur Grant Snow. They lived in a stone house that replaced the “soddy” where Wilbur was born. Growing up in the rolling plains of North Kansas, Emma Jean was busy helping with her younger siblings, attending to the garden, milking cows, collecting eggs from the 50+ chickens, playing in the barn with kittens, and riding the farm horses. The Snows were active in the Free Methodist church in Almena for two generations back. Jean remembers that they took the buggy to church but walked to school. She has fondly recalled her dad protectively holding her right mittened hand as they walked the three miles through the snow and bitter cold to school, but suffered frostbite on her left finger as it wasn’t warmly held in her father’s hand.
With the challenges of the Great Depression came dust storms, grasshoppers, and drought forcing the Snows to sell the family farm to a cousin. They moved into town for a year, keeping only the cow for milk. When Jean was in 5th grade the family loaded up the old Ford and moved out west to Grants Pass, Oregon, where more family lived. All their worldly goods were piled in the vehicle, with a mattress tied on top. The trip took a few months. They had to find work along the way to pay for gas and food, and even walked along the car as it would go only a few miles an hour up steep hills. Multiple flat tires would slow the family down even further. As Jean remembers, “We were poor as church mice but never knew it. It was a great adventure.”
They settled near Wolf Creek, outside of Grants Pass in the beautiful woods, which for a girl from the plains of Kansas was paradise. In 1941 her father died after falling from a pine tree he was trimming. These were difficult times, dealing with his death while the family struggled financially. With the help of government aid, Salvation Army, and church donations, her mom taking in laundry, house cleaning and then picking hops as a family, they managed to maintain a small place in town. It was in these hops fields that Nina met tall Norman Howell with twinkling eyes and ready sense of humor. They married in 1944. Jean has recalled that he was a very kind stepfather, even allowing them to keep the money they earned while picking fruit or hops. The family traveled up and down California’s central valley, picking fruit and other crops. Although the “fruit tramp” life, as she described it, may seem deprived to most, Jean found the vagabond existence rich and full of love for their tight knit family. Due to the travels, Jean had difficulty completing high school but was finally able to graduate after moving to live with cousins in Nebraska at the age of 21.
In her 20s she moved to Los Angeles to live with her sister and brother. She worked as a telephone operator, waitress, and then for AAA. She attended Eagle Rock Nazarene Church where she met a handsome young man with a winning smile and jaw dropping voice. Singing in a quartet from Pasadena College, Charles Simmons won over this rather shy young lady who preferred to be in the background. They were married on June 22, 1957. In 1959 a beautiful blond son, Ron Simmons, was born, followed by twins Susie and Shari, a mere 14 months later. The family continued to attend Eagle Rock Nazarene Church until 1966, when they moved to Phoenix, Arizona. There the family attended Westdale Nazarene Church, Charles worked as a postman and Jean at Motorola as a technician.
Jean was an avid reader, particularly of mysteries, where she could escape the immediate demands and enter into whatever adventures were before her in print. She was a skilled seamstress, making much of her family’s clothing; she crocheted and knitted for untold hours. She gained the most joy in caring for her children, and others in her home, even providing foster care for infants when she had three small children of her own. When her children were grown and grandchildren came, she cared for Aaron, Emily and Nicholas Zint while Shari and Ron Zint worked. But Jean and Charles were often in San Diego with the other grand kids, Laura, David and Adam Goodwin where Sue and Jerry Goodwin lived. Meanwhile Ron Simmons moved to Colorado Springs to attend Nazarene Bible College where he married Kim, enjoying an instant family and grandchildren. Sadly Ron died suddenly at the age of 60, exactly 3 weeks before Jean passed. After the love of her life, Charles, died in 2004, Jean practically and gracefully lived a full life in a condo in Glendale, where she continued to attend and be active in the Glendale Nazarene Church. In 2011 Jean moved to San Diego to be near her daughter Susie and family because Shari and her family had moved to Northern California, and the winters are much too cold there. Jean developed Alzheimer’s late in life, but as her memory faded, she was even more joyful, grateful and consistently overcome by her rich life. “I am so blessed!” was her persistent exclamation, when other conversational abilities faded.
She taught us to see other people. She taught us to see what people needed and respond without ever pointing to herself. When she saw a need in the people around her she would practically and matter-of-factly meet the need. She lived her life for others without fanfare, self-interest, or judgment.
Jean consistently considered others, without dwelling on her own needs. She preferred to be in the background, very uncomfortable in the limelight and was happiest, when she was gazing at her children, grandchildren, and whoever else was near. She was made of stern stuff, invariably practical, stoic even, which was essential for an older sister growing up in the Depression, loosing a father in her childhood, providing that firm, stiff upper lip necessary for navigating and protecting those in her care. She was the definition of humble, pouring into others, providing just what was needed to steady and comfort. She cared for her mother in law without complaining, reaching out to relatives, elderly friends, and younger church members in need to care for their children, transport to appointments, and just support in practical ways. Her deeds were never advertised, her inconveniences or the impositions of others never surfaced, nor did she hold a grudge, complain about others or ever feel slighted. Even in her last hours, in terrible suffering, Jean would smile on her loved ones with tenderness, and felt the weight of glory call her home. Oh the reunion with her son and her dear husband. Such a great cloud of witnesses there cheering us on, inspiring us to love unselfishly, wholly in the moment, rejoice in the blessings and richness of this life. What a gift you are, Emma Jean Snow Simmons, to this world and the next!
- Graveside Service Monday, May 13, 2019
- Reception Monday, May 13, 2019