Elder Dennis E. Simmons' move from a private law practice to the Second Quorum of the Seventy isn't the first dramatic shift in his life.
In 1965, he and his wife, Carolyn, loaded their four children into their car, stuffed their possessions into a rented trailer and headed from Las Vegas, Nev., to Washington, D.C., where he would attend the George Washington University Law School.Elder and Sister Simmons' journey to law school was approached with faith and brought the blessings of a fulfilling career and the resources to serve in the Church.
Elder Simmons, 61, was sustained as a General Authority on April 6, and now he and his wife again approach a new venture with faith.
They were asked to meet with President Gordon B. Hinckley the week before April conference. "We agreed that whatever he asked of us, we would be happy to do, no matter when or where or what," Elder Simmons said during a Church News interview.
Elder Simmons began his life in the rural northern Utah community of Beaver Dam, 13 miles west of Logan. He grew up there, doing farm work and helping in the family store as a youth. He attended Utah State University in Logan for a year, then went to BYU for a quarter before deciding that everything important to him, including Carolyn Thorpe, was in Logan.
"I decided that I needed to return to Utah State and marry Sister Simmons," he said.
She was not reluctant, especially for one reason: "I always knew that he would be true and faithful in the Church. His testimony was strong."
They were married in 1953, shortly after his return to Logan. He went on to graduate from Utah State where he also completed the Air Force ROTC program.
After two years of military service he turned to his chosen career - teaching. After two years as a music and English teacher at Bear River Junior High School, financial realities led him to accept a position in 1959 managing the travel office for Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Las Vegas, Nev.
What was intended to be a short-term career shift to achieve financial stability became a financially comfortable, long-term job. But by 1965, the job "had long since lost any challenge, professionally," Elder Simmons said.
At that time he met two men who, several years after earning bachelor's degrees, returned to earn law degrees at George Washington University. "They encouraged me to consider doing what they had done, and the more I thought about it the more I thought that was something I would enjoy doing," he said.
He "put all my eggs in one basket," applying only to the George Washington University Law School. He and his wife packed their belongings in case he was accepted, but they kept their plans confidential. He was a counselor to the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Stake at the time, and didn't want the members of the stake to suspect they were moving until they knew for sure.
When the letter of acceptance came, he approached his stake president who graciously sustained his decision.
He was also encouraged to proceed along that course by Elder Theodore M. Burton, then an Assistant to the Twelve, who was visiting for stake conference. Elder Simmons picked up Elder Burton at the airport and while they were driving, told the visiting authority he was considering attending law school but felt some anxiety over leaving his Church calling.
"[Elder Burton] said,
Oh, no, you go,' " Elder Simmons remembered. "You will be in a much better position to serve the Lord after that experience than you ever could be staying here.' I really appreciated that counsel and, of course, it has been true."
That part of their life brought great challenges to Elder and Sister Simmons. He had to work full-time during the day to support his family while attending law classes at night. His first year he was a policeman in a U.S. Senate office building. He also worked a short time for two government agencies. Then he was hired as a legislative assistant to former U.S. Sen. Alan Bible of Nevada, and that job carried him through the remaining time.
Sister Simmons was left home with five children. The oldest was 10 years old and the youngest was born a few weeks after they arrived. She said they lived out of boxes and had very little furniture. She acknowledged she got lonely through the long days while her husband worked, attended school and studied. But she was able to get through by staying busy with her children and her Church calling (Primary president), and with the help of "wonderful friends."
Memories of the experience are positive for Elder and Sister Simmons. He said: "It was an exciting experience, but it had its challenges and we wouldn't change that. I pity those who don't have that kind of experience to look back on and savor in later years.
"We were greatly blessed. The Lord has taken care of us in everything we have ever done. He has opened doors."
Along with his love for the Lord, Elder Simmons spoke fondly of other loves in his life, particularly his family, the scriptures and music.
Of his appreciation for music, Elder Simmons said his mother, Sylvia Ericksen Simmons, "had to talk me into it." His father, Thomas Simmons, was "one of the most stalwart men that I've ever known," he said, serving as a bishop's counselor for 17 years and as a bishop for five years. He was supportive of his mother's encouragement that their son pursue music. She convinced Elder Simmons to take a class in music his first year in high school "and said if I didn't like it, she would never bother me again."
He said he is grateful for his mother's guidance as he developed into a talented singer. "Music became my first love," he said. Then, glancing at his wife with a smile, he continued, "And then Sister Simmons became my first love."
Love for music was a common bond for the couple who met as teenagers in the Simmons' family store in Beaver Dam. They were introduced by a cousin of Elder Simmons, who lived in his future wife's ward.
Sister Simmons learned to love singing growing up in a family with a musical background. She said her grandfather and mother were wonderful singers.
She and her husband were able to share their musical talents while they were dating. "All the high schools would come together and we would have wonderful musical festivals," she recalled. "I remember going and hearing him sing, and I sang in a double trio."
When he gave up his career as a music teacher, Elder Simmons said his yearning to be involved in music was satisfied over the years as he directed and his wife participated in Church choirs and musical productions.
Elder and Sister Simmons raised their children in a gospel environment filled with love. Sister Simmons said the law school experience was difficult at times for the children, but that their father's success as an attorney has provided them with a good life since then. Elder Simmons has also been heavily involved as an adult leader in Scouting which was a help to his sons.
"We're so grateful for our children and what wonderful people they are," Sister Simmons said. She added that she and her husband have real joy when they have reunions with their children and grandchildren.
Elder Simmons praised Sister Simmons as a devoted wife and mother.
"She has always been willing to sustain me while I've been gone to do things that had to be done," he said. "She has loved our children and done everything that a mother can do for her children. Her children will all verify that.
"We've had our challenges and ups and downs just like any family. But we are blessed with wonderful children. Our three sons have been on missions. All of the five who are married were married in the temple. When number six gets married, he'll get married in the temple. And they all honor their mother for being the angel that she is."
Throughout his life, Elder Simmons has been a devoted member of the Church. After receiving his law degree, he returned to Las Vegas. A short time later he was called as bishop of the Las Vegas 12th Ward and then served eight years as president of the Las Vegas Nevada South Stake. When the stake was divided, he was called to preside over the new Las Vegas Nevada Lakes Stake. Six months later he was called to go back east as president of the Washington D.C. North Mission.
Through his Church experiences, he has fostered a love for the scriptures and delights in teaching from them. "I would rather teach the scriptures than anything," he said. "I would rather teach than practice law."
His teaching opportunities have included Sunday School classes and adult religion courses for the Church Educational System.
"I used to really work in preparing for a talk consisting of a verse here and a verse there, and a story and a poem," Elder Simmons said. But now, he added, he bases his talks entirely on the scriptures.
"When you study the scriptures, I don't know how you can do anything but teach from the scriptures. They are so in sync with the truths of eternity, the truths that impact on our lives."
He looks forward now, as a General Authority, to even more opportunities to share the scriptures with others. As he closes his law practice to undertake full-time service to the Church, Elder Simmons remembers again the promise of Elder Burton. The sacrifice required to earn a law degree has been a factor in this new opportunity to serve the Lord.
Elder Dennis E. Simmons
Family: Born in Beaver Dam, Utah, June 27, 1934, to Thomas Yates and Sylvia Ericksen Simmons. Married Carolyn Thorpe Oct. 15, 1953, in the Logan Temple. Parents of six children: Brad, 41; Jan Webster, 38; Jeffrey, 35; Leslie Ewing 34; Robert, 30; SueAnn Pierce, 28; eight grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor's degree in music education and English from Utah State University and law degree from the George Washington University Law School.
Employment: Senior partner in his own law firm; legislative assistant to former U.S. Sen. Alan Bible of Nevada; travel office manager for Lawrence Radiation Laboratory; English and music teacher at Bear River Junior High School, Tremonton, Utah.
Military Service: 1st lieutenant, U.S. Air Force.
Church Service: Area Authority in the North America Southwest Area, regional representative, president of the Washington D.C. North Mission, mission president's counselor, stake president and counselor, high councilor, temple sealer and bishop.