Marguerite Simon 101 Yrs
By Haley Castillo
It’s nearly impossible to think about Spelman College without thinking about Marguerite Simon.
Known by all as Miss Simon, the physical education teacher was beloved for her decades-long dedication to America’s oldest historically Black college for women, said longtime friend and Spelman alumna, Janet Lane Martin.
“She represented loyalty and had dedicated her entire life to Spelman College,” Martin said. “She was a celebrity. If you went to Spelman, you know Miss Simon.”
Simon graduated from Spelman herself in 1935 with a degree in biology. Her first job in education was as a second-grade teacher in Milledgeville before moving to Evergreen, Ala., where she took a job as a science teacher.
At the same time, Spelman College was in need of a physical education teacher. Remembering Simon’s love of children, background in teaching and contributions while attending the college, Spelman’s then-president, Florence Read, called Simon to offer her a spot on the physical education faculty, said Eloise Abernathy Alexis, Spelman’s vice president for college relations.
“It was really about all she’d done as a student,” Alexis said. “She was well-known and well-respected by Miss Read, and Miss Simon was who she looked to in order to fill that void.”
Marguerite F. Simon of Atlanta died April 25 of natural causes at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. She was 101.
Her funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Congregational Church and interment will follow at South-View Cemetery. Carl M. Williams Funeral Directors Inc. is in charge of arrangements.
When Simon joined Spelman’s faculty in 1943, she had no experience or background in physical education. Determined to educate herself on the matter, she began taking classes and eventually received her master’s degree in physical education in 1960 from the University of Colorado.
During her nearly four-decade career at Spelman, Simon taught everything from archery to bowling, and used her strict, “old-fashioned” attitude to make her students understand and appreciate the importance of health and fitness, Martin said.
“Miss Simon didn’t play,” she said with a laugh. “She was serious and everyone knew it.”
Understanding the need for more than classes alone, Simon and some of her colleagues pressed for an entire physical education department. Once it was established, Simon began a long-term fundraising project to build Read Hall, Spelman’s fitness and recreation facility, which was constructed in 1950, Alexis said.
“She was the primary voice for the teachers who were there at the time,” Alexis said. “She was very instrumental in getting the Read Hall building.”
Simon retired from Spelman in 1980, but her presence at the school remained the same. She continued serving as a volunteer, mentor and speaker, and her love of Spelman history and tradition continues to serve as an inspiration to several generations of Spelmanites, Martin said.
“We just worshipped the ground she walked upon,” Martin said. “She has left a legacy for us, and all we need to do is follow it and keep it going.”
As for Read Hall, the original building that Simon helped establish has been demolished and a new facility is under construction to accommodate Spelman’s growth and development. Completion is expected by late spring 2015, and a space within the building will be named in Simon’s honor.
Simon is survived by a multitude of nieces, nephews, grandnieces and great-grandnephews.