Former recording artist Joe Simon, now a full-time Christian minister in Illinois, is developing several community programs for his hometown of Simmesport. {Photo from Joe Simon Ministries}

Simmesport Rising: Joe Simon wants hometown to reach its potential

{Editor’s Note: This series looks at several programs and initiatives aimed at improving various aspects of the quality of life in Simmesport.}

Spartan kings were known for telling visitors their city needed no walls -- because every Spartan was a brick in the wall. Simmesport officials have a similar philosophy on the relationship between the town and its people.

“A city's economy is only as good as its infrastructure and its infrastructure is only as good as the character of its people,” Simmesport native Joe Simon said.

Simon, 74, left Simmesport with his family in the late 1950’s and started a recording career in California. He became famous as an entertainer and recording artist in the 1960’s.

Now he is “giving back” and helping to “lift up” Simmesport by sponsoring a wide-ranging community outreach project that will include educational programs, recreational programs, character development and other efforts to meet the community’s needs.

Believing that the ultimate building block of a municipality is its people, Simmesport officials entered into an agreement with Joe Simon Community Outreach Ministries to provide meaningful programs for its residents of all ages. That resolution was adopted in November 2017.

The town then negotiated a 99-year lease of former school property -- with an eye on possibly purchasing the site at a later date.

The town’s monthly rental payment is offset by its in-kind contributions, such as routine maintenance and paying the insurance for the property for the duration of the lease.

Simon’s programs and others will be housed in the Community Center.

Simon currently lives near Chicago, but said he will be involved in the local programs -- but emphasizes it will be a local effort led by local people.

“Although my ministry’s programs are national, and even international, I will ensure that the programs in Simmesport will be provided by people of Simmesport, Avoyelles Parish and Louisiana,” Simon said. “We need that good, Louisiana influence in this program.”

He will be on hand for the opening of the programs, which he said should be in the near future.

“I am in contact with Mayor Leslie Draper at least twice a week, working on getting everything in place,” Simon said. “We are bringing others in to work in the program to ensure that it is a success.”

Simon was a consistent presence on the hit charts from the mid-1960’s to the early ‘80’s.

His most successful songs are “The Chokin’ Kind” (1969), “Power of Love” (1972) and “Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor)” (1975), which all made it to the top of the Billboard R&B Chart.

He had 51 songs on the U.S. Pop and R&B charts from 1964-81, including eight U.S. Top 40 and 38 R&B Top 40. He also charted 13 times in Canada.

Among the many awards he received is the Grammy for Best Male R&B artist for 1970.

After living the less-than-Godly life of an entertainer for two decades, “I came to my senses in the ‘80’s,” he said. “I came to the realization that the Lord is the one who was protecting me in all my travels and in my life.

“I thought, ‘If the Lord is protecting me while I’m flying all over the world serving Satan, something was wrong," Simon continued. "I was out of order. I realized that I should be serving the One who was protecting me."

Simon left the entertainment business in the early 1980’s to enter full-time Gospel ministry. He is now known as Bishop Joe Simon.

Although he is affiliated with the Baptist denomination, he joked that “I don’t go in much for ‘name-calling.’”

The most important thing, he said, is to preach God’s message.

He has combined his love of music with his love of God with several albums since entering the ministry.

Simon said his Community Outreach Program “will be gigantic for the citizens of Simmesport and will also encourage and high
light the positive social lifestyle of the community.

“What is important about these programs is they will bring all ages together -- children, adults and senior citizens,” he continued. “There is a split in the community and in the family that needs to be healed.

“I believe in many ways a child learns more on Grandma’s knee than he does in school,” Simon added. “That connection is often missing today. The destruction of the family structure is one of the greatest sins in society.”

He said those wanting to know more about the program and about him and his ministry can call toll-free at 877-805-8447 or visit his website at www.joesimonministries.org.

Simon said he is glad for “this great opportunity to partner with and help my hometown of Simmesport.

“It is time for Simmesport to make a great change,” Simon said. “The town has always had the potential, but never acted to reach that potential. I believe that is about to change.”

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