Willie Simmons, 91, a community difference maker

by | Oct 13, 2021 | Golf Training

By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Willie L. Simmons, 91, says he has played golf for more than 80 years. Simmons is the founder of the Northern California Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

Since 2012, 91-year-old local golf instructor and nonprofit operator Willie L. Simmons has participated in every Roberts Family Development Center (RFDC) Golf Scholarship Classic.

At the most recent RFDC fundraiser, held on September 24th at Rocklin’s Whitney Oaks Golf Course, Simmons showed attendees and donors that he is showing no signs of slowing down.

According to Simmons, good health, a common mind, a humble attitude and “14 to 15 holes of golf every Tuesday” are the keys to his presence on the golf courses.

“Just get up every morning and you can make the rest of the way,” he said. “But the most important thing when playing golf is having fun.”

Simmons has known Roberts, the co-founder of RFDC, for more than three decades. Roberts has also supported Simmons’ nonprofit, the Northern California Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association (NCMJGS), Inc.

“I believe in this golf tournament because Derrell said this fundraiser is for scholarships only and is the (NCMJGS) goal,” said Simmons. “So that’s one of the main reasons I came out to support him. Our non-profit association also always makes a generous contribution. ”

Willie Simmons (left) and Derrell Roberts (right) have supported each other’s organizations for decades. Simmons recently played in the Roberts Family Development Center’s annual golf tournament. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

The RFDC Golf Scholarship Classic had 144 paid attendees for this year’s version of the fundraiser. More than $ 60,000 has been raised to support RFDC youth programs.

Roberts says he sees the youth sports activist as a “personal mentor and friend”.

Over the years, many RFDC youth have participated in Simmons’ golf programs.

“He was one of the first executives I met when I first came to the Oak Park area. It’s been a two-way relationship for years, professionally and personally, ”said Roberts. “I support his golf tournaments and he supports mine. He has always been a supporter of the work of RFDC. “

Simmons was introduced to the game of golf on a course he couldn’t play. The year was 1937, he was seven years old and “proud,” he said as he worked as a caddy in West Monroe, Louisiana, despite the breed barrier.

“It was the color of my skin, but from that point on I’ve been in golf for over 80 years,” said Simmons. “I knew that one day I would make a difference.”

Born in West Monroe, Louisiana on August 15, 1930, Simmons moved to Oakland and shortly thereafter to Sacramento when he was 15. He attributes his health and longevity to a less stressful life.

“Life wasn’t that easy for me. I’ve been through a lot but I’ve never been worried, ”said Simmons. “I was just like my parents and grandparents raised me. My paternal grandparents were both in their 90s when they died. So I think it’s hereditary. I can imagine that they also took care of their mental and physical health. “

Simmons, a retired engineer from the state of California, protects himself by wearing face masks and is fully vaccinated to avoid the COVID-19 virus.

Willie and his wife Pauline E. Simmons, 90, will celebrate their 68th year of marriage on December 26th. The couple met in Sacramento and have been members of Shiloh Baptist Church in Oak Park for more than 65 years.

“We’ve been married since 1953,” said Simmons. “And the best part is that none of our children have ever given us any problems.”

Their five children, Lorraine, Lorretta, Linda, LaVerne, and Willie III, have been serving the Sacramento ward for decades.

As a unit, they formed the tax-exempt nonprofit Northern California Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association, and the nonprofit has grown strong ever since.

According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF) 2019 Golf Industry Report, 33.5 million Americans played golf in 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of black recreational golfers fell from 1.1 million to 800,000, according to the NGF.

To combat these numbers locally, NCMJGS has done its part in promoting education, golf training programs for teens and adults, and providing college scholarships and financial aid to well-deserved black students.

Simmons prides itself on his family’s contribution to the community and the game of golf.

“I get a lot of support from the family,” said Simmons. “We are working so hard that this is also possible for young and older people.”