It’s looking to be quite a year for Lake County native Donald Simms.
Simms, who has been named the grand marshal for this year’s Lake County Round-Up, will be assuming this prestigious role under quite a coincidence. He will be 95 years old by the time this year’s event rolls around, and it just so happens that 2014 marks the 95th annual running of the Lake County Round-Up.
On top of this little factoid, Simms will also serve as the inaugural grand marshal for the first-ever Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association- (PRCA) sanctioned Round-Up, making a bit of local history in the process.
Appropriately enough, local history is in no short supply for the Simms family, as Donald’s ancestral roots are firmly entrenched in Lake County.
His grandfather, S. B. Chandler, settled the area in 1872, and is one of Lake County’s pioneering settlers, preceding the formal establishment of the township of Lakeview.
“He had the first car, here in Lakeview,” said Donald’s son, Sonny.
In addition, the Chandlers were involved with the Lake County Round-Up’s establishment, a legacy that continues to be a major Lake County tradition each Labor Day weekend.
Donald’s father, Lytle Simms, headed west from Missouri on his own and settled the Crooked Creek valley, marrying Lottie Chandler in 1918. Donald was born in 1919 as the couple’s sole child.
The family’s ranching operation in the Crooked Creek area near Valley Falls spearheaded by Chandler at one time was vastly large. Initially driven by sheep, the family later transitioned to cattle.
“He was one of the biggest private landowners in the county around here,” Donald said.
Just prior to U.S. involvement in World War II, Donald married Darlene Brown, and the couple had three children: eldest daughter Marie Lee, middle child Raymond and the youngest, Lytle (known by most as Sonny), all of whom call Lake County home.
Following Darlene’s passing in 1969, Donald later remarried, taking Amelia Gawronski as his bride in 1980. She passed away in September 2013.
Grandchildren from Donald and Darlene’s union include DeNae, Dustin, Darci and Casey Simms, and Donnie Elliott.
Amelia had five children from her previous marriage, which included Rose Davidson, Polly Thompson, Ginger Pranghofer, Susan Singleton and Twyla Davidson.
Grandchildren from Amelia’s side include Debby Jermain, Steven Davidson, Rhonda Rhodes, Sherry Parson, Candi Pittam, Nikki Johnson, Kelly Pranghofer, Kim Peterson, Keith Pranghofer, Emily Wessel, Ryan Davidson, Jamie Dick, Nick Singleton and Megan Singleton.
Amelia and Donald also had a combined total of 35 great-grandchildren.
In addition to the family ranching operation, which has operated continuously since the days of Chandler, Donald also was active throughout his life in the Valley Fall Grange, which folded during the 1990s.
The grange was a highly popular social hub in its peak heyday, with dances, potluck dinners and other community-based gatherings held frequently.
Donald and Amelia ultimately became snowbirds once married, spending their winters in Yuma, Ariz. The couple enjoyed sharing crafting hobbies as a common thread; pun fully intended.
“We had a lot of friends down on there,” Donald said, “and a lot of good times.”
The family connection to the Round-Up has carried on in recent years, as Donald’s grandson Dustin served as the Round-Up president in recent years.
As for his own thoughts on the nearly century-old Lake County tradition, Donald said that he enjoys the big Labor Day weekend each year. A particular guilty pleasure? Fried bread, of course.
Through all of the years and with all the stories accumulated over his lifetime, Donald’s thoughts on Lake County life are simple and succinct.
“It’s just a good place to live,” he said. “The people are good and friendly. It was just home.”