Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series about the oft-forgotten influence of the Simmons family on the Forest Lake area. Part one, “A forgotten founding family of Forest Lake” was published here.
ECM Staff Writer
In the mid-20th century, Forest Lake was a bustling town for commerce, and the Simmons family was a big part of it.
“There were four, probably five, grocery stores in Forest Lake at the time,” said Joe Houle, son of Ray Houle, who ran a grocery in the downtown. “There was plenty of competition. They (the Simmons team) were good businessmen.”
Mitt Simmons, who was 82 when he died in 1955, spent time in J.L. Simmons’ dry goods business (covered in part one) and at the turn of the 20th century owned the boat landing and bait shop at Lakeside Memorial Park. That business was sold to John C. Boehm in 1901, and it remained under his lead for the next 49 years. Boehm was the son of another area pioneer, John Boehm, who came to the area in the late 1860s and claimed land in Columbus on what is still known as Boehm’s Corner on County Road 23.
It was through the Boehm family that the Simmons clan put down roots in another business area. The connection began with the union of John Simmons, the son of Richard and Josephine, to Amanda (Emma) Boehm, the daughter of John and Anna Boehm. With one Boehm son running a business in Forest Lake, Joe Boehm joined the fold by partnering with Ed Schmidt at Forest Lake Bakery in 1921.
It was at the bakery where Bud (Allen) Simmons, the son of John and Emma, got his start in the bakery business as an employee of his uncle, Joe Boehm. Joe Boehm would move on to start Forest Lake’s Dairy Queen in 1950. Bud was just 6 when the bakery business was purchased, and by the time he was a young teen, he was on deck helping the two men.
His affiliation with the bakery continued until 1944, when he joined the Navy during the final two years of World War II. After getting out of the service, he returned to the bakery for a short period before buying a bakery in Isle, which he worked for two years.
“He was Forest Lake,” said a daughter, Darlene (Darcy) Anderson, of Dellwood.
“He just loved this town,” she added, explaining why the Simmons family stayed in Isle two short years. “Everything about Forest Lake was special to him.”
After returning to the bakery, Bud Simmons soon landed a job as head baker when Setterholm’s Grocery opened in 1958. He remained at Setterholm’s until shortly before his death at age 63 in 1978, but Bud Simmons had planted the bakery seed in his kids.
During his days at the Forest Lake Bakery, several of Bud and Loretta (Darwin’s) eight children found after-school, weekend and summer jobs at the bakery. Allan, Forest Lake class of 1958, took the baking industry to heart with a lifelong career in the trade as the owner of Al’s Maplewood Bakery for 31 years. Ron Simmons, class of 1974, worked a number of years as a baker for his brother before starting a 26-year stint as a baker for Cub Foods.
Two sisters also followed their father’s career path. Juel joined her brother at Al’s for a time and also worked as a pastry chef. Linda completed a bakery course at Dunwoody and spent the better part of a decade as a cake decorator.
The dry goods store of the J.L. Simmons operation was just one outlet for that wing of the family. The son of George Simmons was just 15 when his father died, but he became a key business owner and landholder. He was also an avid hunter and sportsman who enjoyed the outdoors.
During his years of running the store, he also purchased extensive land holdings around the lake, including a sliver of land between Second and Third lakes that became Simmons Point. It was an excellent hunting spot for migrating fall birds. In later years, the point became prime residential property and was developed as Pioneer Point after the land left Simmons ownership.
J.L. was also involved in land ownership on North Shore Drive in the early 1900s when the road was part of Lake Avenue, which wound its way from downtown Forest Lake around the lakes.
In 1908, J.L.’s son, George, platted the G.M. Simmons Addition in blocks 1-4 in the general vicinity of where Faith Lutheran Church is today. It was a major lakeshore development. The plat included 62 lots with 32 mostly 50-foot lots on the lake and another 30 lots on the opposite side of Lake Avenue.
Tom Simmons was 29 when he launched the grocery store operation in the north half of the J.L. Simmons building in 1929. The Simmons business lasted a total of 62 years. The dry goods portion was eventually phased out, leaving Tom and George A. to run the grocery store until their retirements. The Simmons building still stands and serves as the home of Rolseth Drug today.
Roland Thomas Simmons was 71 when he died on Oct. 9, 1971. George A. Simmons died on Nov. 1, 1967, at the age of 79. During his later years in Forest Lake, Tom Simmons provided homes for siblings George M. and Kit Simmons, with Kit caring for Tom’s children after his wife, Emma, died at age 37 in 1942.
Military service is a continuing theme for the Simmons family, as it has been for many American families generation after generation.
The loss of George W. Simmons in the Civil War was the opener.
One of William Jackson’s sons, Charles Jackson, served with U.S. forces in the Spanish American War in 1898.
There is one record of a family member serving in World War I: George A. Simmons, who was an airplane mechanic with U.S. Forces during the conflict. World War II saw involvement for two of Richard and Josephine Simmons’ sons. In addition to Bud Simmons, Stan Simmons was in the Navy during the war. Both were enlisted men.
The military also occupied life for two of Bud and Loretta Simmons’ children. John Simmons, a 1963 graduate, spent a 13-month tour in Vietnam as a Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine combat force.
Darcy Simmons Anderson served on active duty in the Gulf wars as a commander in the 109th Air Evacuation Wing during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in concert with her medical training. Anderson earned a nursing degree at the University of Minnesota and a master’s at Boston University. In all, she was in the Minnesota Air National Guard from 1970 through 1993. She retired as a lieutenant colonel. In private life, Anderson taught nursing at the University of Minnesota and worked in the state community college system for 30 years.
Where are they now?
Anderson and her brothers and sisters no longer make Forest Lake their home. In a sense, the Forest Lake that their ancestors helped build had grown too much. It can be seen in the city’s downtown business district.
When Tom Simmons was selling groceries there and making a living, four other grocery stores were prospering. Today, there are none, as the downtown has lost much of its retail power to big box stores that started to arrive in the 1970s. The possibilities for merchants like Tom Simmons were vanishing, while the migration of young people away from their home towns was on the rise. That was the case for the eight children in the Bud Simmons family. After completing high school, they turned to jobs, college, military and starting families of their own. Today, only Ron Simmons, of Scandia, is an area resident.
Still, George Simmons would be proud of what he helped start in 1855, Darcy Anderson believes. So would her great-great-grandfather Richard Simmons, she said. The Simmons family no longer owns businesses in Forest Lake, but descendants have maintained the hard work ethic that carried earlier generations.
The Simmons name may have slipped from the surface in Forest Lake, but the foundation built from the family’s accomplishments is the bedrock of what has made Forest Lake good.
SIDEBAR: Bookending students
Look at old Forest Lake school photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s and you’ll find Simmons kids present and accounted for. They were ancestors of George and Rebecca Simmons, who settled in the area in the mid-1850s.
Over the years, there have been 22 Simmons family members to earn diplomas at Forest Lake High School, according to local historian Brian Tolzmann. Most are thought to be descendants of George and Rebecca Simmons.
But none are more important in the annals of education history than George Albert Simmons and Jenna Simmons.
George Simmons, the son of Joseph L. and Rose Simmons, was the first graduate of the high school in 1912. He was the lone graduate that year.
Jenna Simmons, the daughter of Ron and Renee Simmons of Scandia, was in the class of 2011, the school’s 100th graduating class.
George Simmons was a third-generation family member, while Jenna is a sixth generation Simmons. Ron Simmons’ great-great-grandfather was Richard Simmons, a brother of Joseph L. Simmons.
In all today, there are eight generations of Simmons family members with American blood lines on the Simmons side of the family tree.