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Simmons family pays forward life-changing debt



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From left are Clarkston Farm and Garden Club Treasurer Sue White, Mark Simmons, his sister Julie Upchurch, their father Ken Simmons, and Liz Schoebel, garden club president. The Simmons family donated almost $7,000 to the club in memory of Karen Simmons, Mark and Julie’s mother and Ken’s wife. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
April 03, 2013 - When Karen Marie Simmons of Independence Township passed away Feb. 13, her family suggested mourners offer a donation to the Clarkston Farm and Garden Club in lieu of flowers.

"It's what Karen and I have talked about for years – pay it forward," said her husband, Ken Simmons.

Friends and family filled Wint's during the funeral, and donated a totalof $6,865 by the time Ken met with garden club representatives, March 28.

"I was overwhelmed by the turnout," Ken said. "You don't always realize how or who you help."

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"I couldn't be more thrilled, it's a very generous donation," said Liz Schoebel, garden club president. "It's amazing."

In 1966, Karen was preparing to graduate from Clarkston High School and was looking into college scholarships. She applied for a scholarship from the Clarkston Garden Club.

"A few days later, she got the scholarship – tuition and books for four years," Ken said. "Karen never forgot it."

The donation will fund four $1,000 scholarships for high school graduates heading to college, as well as mini grants for teachers to educate Clarkston students about conservation, earth science, biology, plant science, and the environment.

"I think it's fantastic," said Julie Upchurch, Karen and Ken's daughter. "All these years, I didn't realize how important the scholarship from the farm and garden club was to her. I'm proud she decided to pay it forward."

"Who knows what it will ignite in someone in the future," said their son, Mark.

Karen earned her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University in 1970, and worked as a first-, second- and third-grade teacher, all at Bailey Lake Elementary. She retired in 2004.

"Her forte was working with first graders – she loved it," Ken said.

She and her husband lived on Oak Hill Road, so Mark, Julie, and their sister Ann Simmons attended Brandon schools.

"But a lot of my friends had my mom as a teacher – they remembered her," Mark said. "And we'd be out shopping and see someone who was in her class 30 years ago and she'd remember their name."

The Karen Simmons Memorial Scholarship will be added to the club's existing scholarship program. Scholarships are presented to students in July. Check clarkstongardenclub.org for information.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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