James and Jessie Simmons
Decades after revolutionizing rice drying procedures in the Mississippi Delta, James and Jessie Simmons, of Cleveland, will be recognized for their agricultural ambition and innovative spirit. A scholarship fund in honor of the couple has been established by the Delta State University Foundation, Inc.
“The James and Jessie Lee Simmons Scholarship will assist children and dependents of rice farmers in attending Delta State University. This is a fitting way to pay tribute to the couple who were so instrumental in transforming the rice industry,” said Keith Fulcher, Executive Director, Delta State University Foundation, Inc.
After returning from service as a Navy pilot in World War II, James Simmons received a degree from Mississippi State University. In 1949, he joined the staff of the Bolivar County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS).
While working for the ASCS office, Simmons aided in the evolution from sack drying rice to the more lucrative method of bin drying and in turn stimulated the rising rice economy that led to farmer-owned bins rather than those purchased through ASCS loans.
After taking a position with H.O. Ward Lumber Co, Simmons managed grain bins for ten years, formed friendships with local farmers and gained a vast knowledge of the rice business.
In the early 1950’s the standard procedure for storing and drying rice included the use of bins with concrete floors and manifolds that ran the length of the bin itself. After researching the rice industries in surrounding states, Simmons began to experiment with perforated floors and the use of horse powered fans. The process involved pulling air down through the rice, inverting the rice, discharging the air under the perforated floors and forcing it up through the grain bin.
Simmons led the rice industry of the Delta in the use of scaffolding on both the interior and exterior of the bin, as well as the method of using rising ratchet jacks. By raising each ring individually, the time and cost of labor and construction was reduced by half.
Five years later, the innovative Simmons perfected the use of large 6,000-bushel grain bins and large centrifugal fans. In 1962, with the encouragement of his wife, Simmons partnered with J.C. Belk and developed the Simmons-Belk Company.
Throughout his career, Simmons’ wife, Jessie, remained the driving force behind his inspiration. She encouraged his development in the rice industry and held the position of secretary at his company.
Though he left the company in 1970, Simmons produced $10 million of agricultural bins by 1979 and within five years averaged $8 million in sales. Simmons maintained his stake in the company until 1988, when he began the process of allowing his employees to purchase the business.
“The Simmons’ have left a legacy in the rice industry and the scholarship in their name will allow future generations to continue to benefit from their lives,” said Fulcher. “The Delta State University Foundation invites all friends and business associates of the Simmons to make a gift in their honor.”
Gifts can be mailed to the Delta State Foundation, Box 3141, Cleveland, MS 38733. For more information, please contact the Foundation Office at (662) 846-4708 or e-mail at email@example.com