Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Simons Says "Build The Hospital"

I believe in Angels. There is no other explanation in the world as to my current existence other than a very diligent and watchful force that has protected me now for forty four years. And if you knew me in my youth, as some of you did, you know all too well that I wasn't exactly an alter boy.

In my mind, I have two Angels that never leave my side. They usually sit in the back seat of my car as they have done for so many years. They are old, cantankerous and they don't like each other very much. One of them loves Johnnie Taylor while the other loves Bill Monroe and they fight over the play-list on my iPod a great deal of the time. I think one of them smokes cigars on occasion but I'm not positive. 
Aside from their personal issues with each other, they whisper things in my ear that hopefully help me make better decisions. And in some cases, have protected me from some pretty hairy instances on the road.

Whether you believe this is all in my head or not, the power of persuasion from a higher source is evident in this next story. And I assure you it was no coincidence.

Our tale begins around 1933 with an architect named Shirley Simons. Shirley, a Fort Worth boy, moved to Tyler in 1928 after a solid ten year career starting in Houston after his graduation from Rice University and then Lufkin where he met his wife, Mollie Mantooth. He and Mollie would raise six children in Tyler with three of his sons joining his architectural firm soon after their graduation.

Shirley's portfolio is what one might say over the top. One of the very first architects to be licensed in the state of Texas, his designs are practically all over the place. You could almost make the argument that he designed Tyler as just driving through the Azalea district is like thumbing through his portfolio.

Just a few to spot light within our great state are the U.S. Federal Building in Tyler, Tyler City Hall, Willow Brook Country Club, Texas Theater, University of Texas at Austin Health Center, Stephen F. Austin Campus Schematic, (Classrooms, Admin/Office Buildings, President's Residence, Library, Auditorium & Fine Arts Building, Men's and Women's Dormitory) and the Marvin United Methodist Church (Remodel and Parsonage). This is just a snip from the list as the completed projects literally fill up four pages. I think it would be safe to say that this guy lived at his drafting table designing what he believed the world should look like.

However impressive and significant all of these designs are, none of the buildings listed above would change the course of human life as drastically as one of his creations.

Which brings us back to the Angels.

In June of 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, the Secretary of the Interior Mr. Harold L. Ickes issued a portion of the New Deal called the PWA or Public Works Administration. This program allotted $3.3 billion dollars to be spent on the construction of public works as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare and contributing to a revival of American Industry.

There were three large projects in Tyler that these funds would be used for. One of which was Mother Frances (now Trinity Mother Frances)  which was placed in the back of the line for construction. However, largely through the insistence of Shirley Simons, it was moved to the front of the line and would be the first project to complete out of the three. Shirley modeled Mother Frances after the Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.

On March 18th, 1937, a natural gas leak that occurred within the New London school building spread gas throughout the entire structure. It is believed that a wood sander was plugged into a wall socket igniting the gas within the air causing an explosion that would destroy the entire school building taking the lives of over 300 children.

Soon after the explosion, hundreds of children along with teachers were rushed to Mother Frances which was not even scheduled to be open until the next day.

The powers that be work in ways that we'll never understand. Some of you reading this will think this was just a coincidence. And others will wonder why God would have ever let something like this happen in the first place.

We'll never know the answers but I'll bet the boots on my feet that the saving hands of an Angel were involved in some way within this tragic event. And in 1933, the ears that Angel whispered into belonged to a humble architect who lived in Tyler, Texas.

Shirley Simons didn't have an iPod or a computer and he didn't live in the sea of noise we have all become accustomed to. He had only his drafting tools and his table for company and like all great designers, sat in silence while pouring out his creations on a blank piece of paper.

And in silence, many things can be heard if one would but listen.

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