Obituary: Bennie Simmons

GARY, IN (October 30, 2017) – A memorial service for retired Covenant pastor Bennie Simmons, who also guided several youth organizations, will be conducted at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 4, at Daniel Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Phoenix, Illinois. He died Tuesday, October 24.

Simmons, 69, was born March 25, 1948, in Gary. He married Willa Johnson on February 9, 1973.

Simmons served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He gave his life to Christ shortly after leaving the military. He once wrote, “It seems as though I was called to ministry the day I was saved as Paul was in Acts 9. I began to witness immediately, leading my wife, her family, my brothers and sisters and best friend to Christ.” He shared his faith so often that people asked him if he was a minister.

He went on to attend Moody Bible Institute and earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Indiana.

Simmons worked with Youth for Christ for 17 years and was the organization’s first black executive director, a position he held for seven years. His work included serving in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Hong Kong, and the Billy Graham Center in Amsterdam.

While working with YFC, he helped plant and pastor Church of Gary Covenant. At the same time, he started a ministry called Save the Family Outreach, which later was renamed Youth Family Community Renewal (YFCR), a holistic ministry that provided multiple services to underserved residents of Gary. As part of its ministry, YFCR offered after-school programs and conducted a basketball program that won two national championships.

The ministry also operated SEAM (Self-Esteem and Anger Management), a program that helped students in grades one through 10 who had been suspended for two or more days. YFCR developed a formal relationship with the Gary School District and obtained permission to share the gospel.

“He and his wife never had children so it was like they adopted every kid they met and could witness to,” said Jerome Nelson, retired superintendent of the Central Conference, who grew up with Simmons and helped plant the Covenant church in Gary. “They would take in kids who had been thrown out of their homes. They would feed kids. Children were their lives.”

Visitation will be from noon to 8 p.m. at the Guy and Allen Mortuary in Gary. Condolence letters and cards may be sent to his widow, Willa Simmons, at 104 Morningside Avenue, Gary, Indiana 46408.

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  1. I knew Bennie before I knew the ECC. In the summer of ’86, I spent every day at the Calumet Region Youth for Christ. Hanging out with him in his office was my regular routine. He would just start talking about the sermon he was working on or whatever else was on his mind. He introduced me to Sly and the Family Stone. Bennie knew I had some hard things going on. He was an important roll model to me. I recently found a picture of him in my keepsakes and thought I’d look him up which is what brought me here. Thank you for remembering him.

  2. Bennie Simmons was a person of deep faith with a heart for evangelism and social service and justice. We so admired his commitment to Christ, to young people, the Church, and his community, and valued his friendship. Peace to his memory and condolences to Willa, the family and to the Church of Gary.

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