OBIT: Dr. Lisso Russell Simmons

October 16, 1922 – February 14, 2023

Lisso Russell Simmons lived life to the fullest and died early Tuesday morning, February 14, 2023. His family was with him in October as he celebrated his 100th birthday and they were with him Tuesday to celebrate his Homegoing. In the last weeks of his life, Lisso was who he had been his entire life—kind and thoughtful and at peace.

Lisso was born in the small community of Simms, Louisiana, near Alexandria, on October 16, 1922. The seventh of nine children, his dad and several of his brothers worked on the railroad. But Lisso’s life would take a different turn after a high school English teacher suggested he should go to college. As he modestly told the story, he didn’t even know you had to pay for college and arrived at Northwestern without money for tuition. Again, a teacher came to the rescue in the form of a scholarship, and Lisso Simmons took it from there. He worked first at the college dairy and later as a plumber’s helper before and after classes to make enough money to stay in school.

After two years in college, Lisso joined the Navy in 1942 where he served aboard the USS Belleau Wood, an aircraft carrier, during World War II. He was always proud of his country and was always, always learning from the experiences he had. In 1946 Lisso returned to Northwestern to continue classes. There he met Nadine Smith on her first day of college and for the rest of his life would say that “she was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Lisso completed his degree at Northwestern and then attended LSU for his master’s in education, all the while courting Nadine. Their wedding in 1950 was one of the happiest days of his life—and hers. They were in love for 56 years and modeled a loving Christian marriage for their children and grandchildren.

Lisso earned his doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado while they lived in Springhill, Louisiana, where he was principal of the elementary school. Soon they moved back to Natchitoches where he taught at Northwestern and later became head of the Education Department. At Southeastern and Delta State Universities, he served as the Dean of Education. Lisso’s loves were teaching, people, and his family. He is known in the collegiate world for being energetic, bringing teaching strategies to life, and standing up for those who didn’t have the advantages some others had. When he saw a wrong, Lisso Simmons tried to make it right.

He rarely met a stranger, whether he knew someone you knew or could connect with you in some way, he loved people and took a genuine interest in others. Lisso loved to read and to research, and he enjoyed engaging ideas in conversation with others. His beliefs stayed strong, as did his respect for you to have different ones.

He was known to many as a beloved professor, a tireless advocate for public education, a deacon and a Sunday school teacher, but Lisso’s five children would tell you about a man, a dad, who took time with them: was there at birthday parties and built tree houses, read books to them and taught them to drive.

Children were drawn to him because no matter who you were, he made you feel good. He had an infectious laugh, a ready smile, and a tender heart. There is a reason for that: Lisso Simmons loved the Lord. His reason for living was to glorify God through the way he lived his life—a life serving others. He lived in Springhill, Natchitoches, Hammond, and also Cleveland, Mississippi (with a brief and wonderful year in Seattle, Washington) for various educational positions, and in each place the Simmons Family would quickly join a church where they could serve. Lisso led his family by his strong and respectful example.     

At mealtimes he often prayed for God’s help to be sensitive to the needs of others. Lisso was a devoted member of the Lions Club, championing in particular the Louisiana Lions Eye Foundation and the Louisiana Lions Camp, a summer camp for children with special needs. If you are reading this, you have likely received a fruitcake or roses delivered by him! He was also dedicated to Fuller Center for Housing, previously Habitat for Humanity, where he worked well into his 90s to help build homes for those who put in their own sweat equity.

Lisso also offered the ministry of friendship and presence, visiting nursing homes and the hospital each week. For years he would visit family members and friends who were ill and would often bring his family along. In the last twenty years he began bringing ice cream sandwiches on his regular nursing home visits, knowing a treat can always brighten someone’s day.

Lisso Simmons was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Nadine Smith Simmons, who died in Natchitoches in 2006. Lisso is survived by his five children: David Simmons (Joy) of Goodlettsville, TN; Russell Simmons of Portland, OR; Andrea Cates (Victor) of Jackson, TN; Kahne Simmons of Madison, MS; and Staci Waldvogel (Dieter) of Birmingham, AL. Lisso was so proud of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren; they, in turn, adored him. His grandchildren are Josh Simmons (Erin) of Austin, TX; Allison Crenshaw (Wes) of Phoenix, AZ; Brian Siperstein (Sia) of Portland, OR; Dylan Siperstein of Portland, OR; Lin Cates (Hillary) of Medina, TN; Reid Cates (Aline) of Memphis, TN; Cameron Cates of Snyder, TX; Mathis, Tyler and Anna Waldvogel of Birmingham, AL. His great grandchildren are Hannah, Tobin, and Sabine Simmons, Meredith Crenshaw, and Hallie Cates.

Visitation will be at First Baptist Church, 508 Second Street, Natchitoches on Saturday, February 25 at 1:00pm followed by a memorial service at 2:00pm. Suggested for memoriam in lieu of flowers, please send a donation to one of the following as they were important to Lisso: Louisiana Lions Camp at 292 L. Beauford Drive, Anacoco, LA 71403; or Fuller Center for Housing at P.O. Box 7024, Natchitoches, LA 71457; or First Baptist Church, 508 Second Street, Natchitoches, LA 71457.