Cover photo for Katherine "Kay" Simmons's Obituary
Katherine "Kay" Simmons Profile Photo
1913 Katherine 2013

Katherine "Kay" Simmons

October 15, 1913 — November 29, 2013

Katherine “Kay” Simmons, age 100, of Rogue River, died Friday, November 29, 2013 at an adult foster home in Grants Pass.

A celebration of life will be at 1:30 p.m., Thursday, January 2, 2014 at All The World Christian Center, 237 SE G Street, Grants Pass with her son, Pastor Gene Simmons officiating. Hull & Hull Funeral Directors are in charge of arrangements.

~ Kay's story ~

Gina Ophus remembers her grandmother teaching her “how to pray while planting petunias,” and snuggling up together watching old movies.

Another granddaughter, Elizabeth, recalls sitting in her grandmother’s kitchen and eating spicy cinnamon toast and sipping endless cups of hot cocoa afternoons after school and at slumber parties.

Her sister, Sarah, says that “there was never a story like Grandma Kay’s.”

All three have fond memories of dressing up in “Mema’s” Sweet Adeline costumes and singing songs together.

The young women shared their memories recently in letters written to their grandmother, former Rogue River resident Katherine Simmons, in honor of her 100th birthday on Oct. 15.

Fondly known as “Grandma Kay,” Simmons’ fragile health --- she has not walked since a fall last year --- prohibited a huge celebration. Instead, her daughter-in-law, Kim Simmons, gathered cards, letters, stories and photos from family and friends to share with her mother-in-law at an intimate birthday party at a foster home in Grants Pass.

Kim said that her mother-in-law has such a “sweet, generous spirit” who has been “a blessing to everyone.”

“She has touched many lives,” she said, and added that she plans to assemble the greetings, memories and photos into a book.

These days, fading water-colored memories light the corners of Simmons’ mind, and the stories are few and far between. Thankfully, Simmons’ earlier tales have provided the family with a rich tapestry of her early life and provided her sons and grandchildren with a glimpse of America a century ago.

She was born Katherine Kadolph in Hartford, Wisconsin, on Oct. 15, 1913. Woodrow Wilson was president, Henry Ford had just developed the first moving assembly line, and World War I was brewing in Europe.

That year, Cracker Jacks introduced the first “prize in every box,” first class stamps were two cents, and the “talking picture show” was still a figment of the imagination.

Excerpts from an autobiographical essay reveal Simmons’ knack for storytelling and a colorful turn of phrase that earned her praises from her high school English teacher and a job as a society page reporter for the Marshfield, Wisconsin, News-Herald at age 18.

“The first things I remember about my childhood days are all so lovely and happy that I feel a pleasant glow steal over my heart when I think of them.

“…Lots of times of happiness, unconscious of the shadows of war that were deepening around us.”

Though she was not yet a year old when World War I broke out in July 1914 and just five when the war ended in 1918, she wrote of “wishing I could send my rice to the soldiers.”

Rice, it seems, was a staple that she tired of eating.

She, did however, help her mother send packages of gum and “other sweets” and to the soldiers in France.

There are humorous tales of when the circus came to town and visits from St. Nick.

Her magical childhood quickly became “a time of confusion, flowers and weeping.” Both her parents died by the time she was six. Her mother’s battle with Spanish influenza overshadowed her fifth birthday party.

A month later, “morning bells began to ring wildly…somebody shouted fire and everything was confusion…the war was over, the country was celebrating.”

And, a year later, her father, a steeplejack, had a fatal fall while away on a job in Illinois. The night that the telegram bearing the news arrived was “a nightmare,” she wrote.

Orphaned, Simmons and her younger sister, Alice, lived with their grandparents, German immigrants, in the close-knit German community of Marshfield.

After her high school graduation and the stint on the newspaper, Simmons turned her sights westward.

Sparked by movie westerns, her imagination ran wild and she wanted to see where the cowboys and “Indians” roamed, recalled her son, Gene Simmons.

She settled at the South Rim Village at Grand Canyon in 1937, where she met up with a young musician and fellow transplant from Marshfield, Cliff Simmons, who played in Fred Harvey’s band at Bright Angel Lodge. The two married in 1938, and later had two sons – Allan in 1939 and Gene in 1941.

Gene Simmons said that when his parents married in Flagstaff, it was still a time of “rough and tough cowboys.” He recalls hearing of the shivaree that greeted the young couple. The cowboys “beat” the bridegroom with their chaps and forced him to pull his bride down the street in a wagon. His mother got a glimpse of the Wild West that night.

Both Gene and Kim also recall “Grandma Kay’s” tales of riding a mule train to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and up the other side to the North Rim and of earning the nickname “Cactus Kate” after an unfortunate encounter with the thorny plant.

And, after a time in Phoenix, the family moved to Klamath Falls in 1956. Gene recalls his mother working for the Phoenix Republican Gazette, but primarily, she was a housewife and mother before landing at Kingsley Air Force Base. After several years in the legal department, working with procurement documents and contracts, she retired in 1980.

A widow since 1962, she moved to Rogue River, where Gene and Kim were teaching at Rogue River High School and raising their children.

And, this is when she became the “best grandmother ever.”

Her children, Kim said, received the “perfect attention” and were “much loved.”

“We value and treasure the time,” she said.

An active member of Sweet Adeline chapters in the Klamath Basin and Rogue Valley and lover of choruses and hymns, Gene said that to this day, his mother can still sing ”such beautiful harmony.”

Simmons’ “love of the Lord” and music were birthed in Gene, a former music teacher and the pastor of All the World Christian Center in Grants Pass now for more than 30 years.

Simmons lived on her own until she was 97 years old, and was the self-appointed church photographer and historian. A lay minister with the gift of “laying on of hands,” Gene said she has a “marvelous relationship with the Lord.”

And, Kim said that “her love for Lord continues to keep her praying for others.”

Gene added that she is “at peace” with her life and “waiting to go home with Jesus.”

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