Rillie Simmons’ memories of her time at Troy University are as vivid and colorful as those of recent alumni.
She remembers playing tennis in what is now the Quad, taking entrance exams that brought her to tears, and serving hungry college students as a worker at the dining hall.
She remembers the sights, the sounds and the smells of a campus that has undergone more than half a century of growth since her graduation — in 1942.
The 103-year-old retired teacher, visiting the Troy Campus for the 2018 homecoming, insists she could never forget the time she spent at TROY from 1936 through 1942, especially given the struggle she went through to get there.
“I’m so proud of TROY, for everybody to get a chance to go to college here,” said Simmons, a lifelong resident of the Coffee Springs area of Alabama.
Her earliest years on her parents’ Geneva County farm led to her unlikely TROY success story.
Simmons’ father wanted his four daughters to become teachers. Unfortunately, three of the four dropped out of school to help on the farm.
A terrible injury in her junior year made it likely Simmons would follow her sisters’ path.
“She stayed out of school the day before Thanksgiving to help her mom wash clothes,” said Wendell Simmons, Rillie’s son. “She and her brother played hide-and-go-seek, and when she went to climb and hide, she fell and broke her hip. She wasn’t able to go back to school that year, and when the next school year came around, she told her mom and dad she wasn’t going back to school.”
That’s when her father made Simmons an offer she couldn’t refuse — return to finish her high school education, and in return he would pay for her to go to college.
“I loved my father very much,” she said. “He wanted all his girls, all four of them, to make teachers. I’m the only one that became a teacher. I’m the only one that finished school. I made him proud.”
At TROY, Simmons’ first day on campus felt like it could’ve been her last.
“We had to take tests all morning, and I was so overwhelmed that I went back to my room, fell on the bed and started crying,” she said. “About that time, there was a knock on the door, and lo and behold it was another student from my school back home. I never shed another tear in my college years.”
She worked in the dining hall to subsidize her room and board expenses, and spent much of her time playing tennis and softball with friends.
“They had a tennis court outside Bibb Graves Hall, and I was out there a lot,” Simmons said. “I just enjoyed it so much here.”
Though the campus has changed significantly since her years as a student, Simmons said she couldn’t be happier about that progress.
“It’s been rebuilt, and it looks like a whole new city itself,” she said. “There were just barracks out for the boys, and Shackelford Hall, a training school and Bibb Graves when I got here. It’s wonderful.”
Simmons received her degree in 1942 and went on to teach for 38 years, retiring in 1976. She currently lives in Dothan, and Wendell received a master’s degree from TROY’s Dothan Campus.