Editorâ€™s note: Earlier this year, The Gazette conducted an informal survey of community and government leaders and asked them who they thought were the most influential people in Medina County. We narrowed the list down to 10 based on the number of votes each received, with No. 1 garnering the most. In the following days, we will feature each influential person as we count down to No. 1.
By MARIA KACIK
Co-founder of Simmons Brothers Construction, Don Simmons enjoys telling the history of industrial development in Medina County in the last 60 years, a story in which he plays an integral part.
But ask him about it, and heâ€™ll chalk it all up to a man named Amos Mears.
Before Mears came to Medina, Simmons explained while seated in a chair in his Smith Road office, the industrial field had been all but lost in Medina County.
â€œIn 1942, they built the Permold Company (on State Road and West Liberty Street in Medina) to do aluminum casting for the war effort. From 1942 to 1959, there wasnâ€™t one company or one job added in Medina in the industrial field,â€ Simmons said.
Don Simmons, co-founder of Simmons Brothers Construction, enjoys telling the history of industrial development in Medina County in the last 60 years, a story in which he plays an integral role. Medina-based Simmons Brothers Construction and its ancillary companies provide full service to businesses looking to build in Medina County. (Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)
But when Mears came to Medina from Cleveland in the late 1950s, he said, that situation changed.
â€œIn 1959, he opened the industrial park on Lafayette and Lake roads. He had 57 acres and he said, â€˜Weâ€™re going to have an industrial park.â€™ And everybody kind of snickered and said, â€˜Thatâ€™s nice, but, Amos, industrial donâ€™t come to Medina,â€™ â€ Simmons recounted.
Nevertheless, Mears needed buildings constructed for industrial use in his park and he called upon Simmons and his brother Harold, sons of a Medina County carpenter and grandsons of a Medina County building mover. In 1959, Don, Harold and Mears sat in area restaurants and drew blueprints of buildings on napkins.
Six months later, Simmons explained, Mears brought to the new industrial park National Disposer, the first industrial company to set up in Medina County in 17 years.
This is how Simmons Brothers Construction was born.
Mears continued recruiting industries to come to Medina County and Simmons Brothers kept building homes for the businesses. In 22 years, Simmons said, Simmons Brothers Construction built 60 buildings in Medina County for Mears.
Mears retired in 1971, but Simmons Brothers Construction picked up where he left off. Today, Medina-based Simmons Brothers Construction and its ancillary companies â€” such as an industrial building management service â€” provide full service to companies looking to build in Medina County.
Simmons Brothers has built the Reserve Commons buildings on state Route 18, the Medina Country Club on Wedgewood Road, several of the countyâ€™s FirstMerit Bank branches and many of the buildings in industrial parks throughout the county. In addition, the company owns Portside Industrial Park on Route 18 in Sharon Township and Progress Industrial Park off State Road in Medina.
â€œWhile the world has moved away from general contracting, we still are a general contractor. We are a one-stop shop,â€ Simmons said. â€œOur company has more experience, particularly in the industrial field, but in the commercial field, too, than anyone else in the area. So we can guide people through those possible problems and make the most of a commercial operation, try to make it the most meaningful it can be.â€
And just like Mears looked to work on economic development in Medina County, so too has Simmons since Mearsâ€™ retirement.
â€œOur theory has been to build multi-tenant buildings and to own them and to lease them and to help companies grow,â€ Simmons said. â€œWe want to see them be successful. We want them to make a profit. We work with them.â€
Simmons said in the 1980s, Simmons Brothers started building small â€œincubatorâ€ spaces for fledgling local businesses and gave the business owners leases of two to three years.
â€œWe know that in two years heâ€™s either going to be out of business â€” he didnâ€™t make it â€” or heâ€™s going to outgrow it,â€ he explained.
Simmons said he wanted to see Medina County grow in just the same way. Thus, in the 1960s, he began a second career â€” public service.
He served as a trustee in Sharon Township from 1962 to 1972. Then from 1972 to â€™76 he served as a Medina County commissioner, working to bring water from the Lorain Rural Water Authority to much of the county and to allocate around $70 million to build sewers throughout the county.
â€œWe had a board of commissioners that were just willing to do those things,â€ Simmons said. â€œWe heard things. We saw needs. And we said letâ€™s get it done. It was about time.â€
After his time as a commissioner, Simmons chaired three committees on how to deal with solid waste in the county. Those committees, he said, â€œmade recommendations that went on to become the recycling center in Westfield Township.â€
Then, in 1994, he was a charter member of the Medina County Economic Development Corp., a partnership he said immediately led him to team up with FirstMerit Bank to build 75,000 feet of industrial space on Progress Drive in Medina.
In 1995, Simmons passed Simmons Brothers Construction on to his son, William.
Even though heâ€™s still regularly in the office, moving on from being president of Simmons Brothers has allowed Simmons to concentrate on the things outside of work that are important to him â€” namely his family and Medina County.
At least twice a year, he and his wife, Edith, host their immediate Simmons family totaling 37 for get-togethers. They include three daughters and one son, 11 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.
Plus, since heâ€™s passed the torch to his son, Simmons has had time to garden and took home the Outstanding Gardener Award from the Medina County Fair in 2005.
But he has not lost any of his business drive in his post-presidential days. After serving as president of the Greater Medina Chamber of Commerce in 1993, he still attends meetings as an honorary member. In October 2007, he chaired a study for the economic development corporation that polled area businesses on what areas need attention in Medina County.
In March, he was elected to serve on the Republican State Central Committee and the male representative from Ohioâ€™s 22nd district. He also is a past chairman of the Medina County Republican Partyâ€™s Executive Committee.
In 2006, Simmons was named man of the year by Leadership Medina County and given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the economic development corporation.
â€œIt was overwhelming,â€ to receive two awards around the same time, Simmons said.
Jim Doutt, executive director of the economic development corporation, explained Simmons was nominated to receive the annual Corporate Citizen Award. â€œBut when the judges saw all the details of his life and his work, they thought (the lifetime achievement award) was very appropriate for him.â€
The award had only been given out once before.
â€œDon is just an incredibly successful businessperson,â€ Doutt said. â€œHeâ€™s developed a business thatâ€™s very, very family oriented. The Simmons family is a cornerstone of the quality of life here in Medina County. They are exhibit A, if you will, of whatâ€™s good about life here in Medina County.â€
Simmons said he leaves it all up to the fates.
â€œThereâ€™s no reason that Don Simmons, who grew up on (state) Route 18 should have had the opportunity to do the things he did. He didnâ€™t go to college. He went out and got a job and went to work for one reason or another,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve had the opportunity to be involved with a lot of things that have made a difference in our county.â€
Kacik may be reached at 330-721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘From the time I can remember my father was involved with something. He was in a meeting every night. He came home and ate supper with his family and was out to a meeting always. I think the thing that makes him tick is that heâ€™s so diversified. Heâ€™s so interested in everything around him. And he genuinely likes people. Heâ€™s always been able to make that happen because he genuinely likes to serve people.’
Simmons Brothers Construction
‘Don is a great man. First and foremost heâ€™s just got a genuine heart for people. Heâ€™s always concerned about doing the thing that benefits the most. He just has a passion for doing things for people. Heâ€™s just always impressed me because he just has a wealth of knowledge. â€¦ Heâ€™s just one of those guys here at the church thatâ€™s known as a great thinker. When you bring up a topic, you go over the pros and the cons, you can always count on Don to have some good solid input and be able to steer the conversation in the right direction.’
Senior associate pastor
The Chapel in Akron (Simmonsâ€™ church)
‘Don is just an incredibly successful businessperson. Heâ€™s developed a business thatâ€™s very, very family oriented. The Simmons family is a cornerstone of the quality of life here in Medina County. They are exhibit A, if you will, of whatâ€™s good about life here in Medina County.’
Medina County Economic Development Corp.