Longtime business manager at 4-H center retires

Published 9:43 am Saturday, June 4, 2011


Margaret Simms, 83, recently retired as business manager of Southeast 4-H Educational Center in Wakefield. -- Merle Monahan | Tidewater News

SEDLEY—When Margaret Ann Simms retired from the Southeast 4-H Educational Center in Wakefield on April 1 after 32 years, she left a job that was a big part of her life with wonderful memories.

The 83-year-old, who started as a bookkeeper, was the first employee hired by the board in 1979. She soon became the business manager and “literally watched the place as it was built.”

“It has been my home away from home,” Simms said. “I can say I truly enjoyed my work.”

The center offers 4-H camping programs and meeting accommodations for youth and adult groups in and outside of 4-H. It consists of 43 executive rental rooms, 29 dorm rental rooms, 12 conference rooms and dozens of outdoor activities, including an archery range, swimming pool, horse barns and show rings, shooting range, fishing pier and picnic shelter.

The center often hosts wedding receptions, banquets, graduations and dances.

Over the years, Simms has seen a number of celebrities entertain there, including big bands, Arthur Duncan of the “Lawrence Welk Show” and actress Anna Marie Albergetti.

The board of directors recently honored Simms with a dinner. More than a dozen board members and co-workers spoke of her knowledge of the center’s activities and her dedication.

“There wasn’t anything she didn’t know about the center,” said Wayne Garst, a district extension leader and secretary to the board. “She’s a wealth of information.”

Master of ceremonies and board member Gene Brittle presented Simms with a gift, while director Doug Chesson spoke of how much she would be missed.

“I don’t know how we will replace her,” Chesson said.

Simms started her career shortly after she graduated from Miss Fannie Webb’s Business School in Franklin. Her first job was secretary to Franklin lawyer Hinson Parker.

From there, she worked for Judge Carlton Holliday in Wakefield. Then, for nearly 20 years, Simms worked for Ray Ashworth, a Wakefield businessman who became a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly.

Simms joined the 4-H Center after leaving Ashworth’s office, although she carried out her duties for the center from his office until offices could be built at the 4-H facility’s Gray Building. She has been in the workforce for more than 50 years.

During Simms’ tenure at the center, she has seen many firsts.

“I remember the completion of the first horse-show ring, then the completion of a second horse-show ring. These were built by 4-H members, 4-H leaders and parents of the young people in time for the first District Horse Show, which was the first group to use the center on June 20, 1981.

“The first meals were served — to the staff — on June 29, and the first 4-H camp was held in July with 102 campers and staff.”

The first non-4-H group to use the center was the Old Dominion University Senate, while the first banquet was for the Isle of Wight Farm Bureau with 470 attending.

“There are so many milestones, it’s hard to remember them all,” Simms said. “I have served under all of the directors to date, which include Dr. Jack Griffin, the first, Robert Lowery, Harvey McLemore, Bob Meadows, Vernon Poe, Marvin Heimbach and Douglas Chesson.”

“There have been many changes, but I feel they were all for the better,” Simms added. “I have worked there longer than any place, and I have mixed feelings about leaving. But my children, Margaret and Richard, tell me it’s time to slow down.”