After more than 42 years at Lamar University, the last 14 as president, James M. “Jimmy” Simmons will be stepping down from the top spot, he announced Friday before a standing-room-only crowd of faculty, staff and community members.

Simmons said he will retire from the presidency effective Jan. 31, 2013. The university will plan a campus-community celebration of his presidency as the date approaches.

“This was an extremely difficult decision for Susan and me,” Simmons said. “This is our hometown. We were both born in Beaumont and we’ve been affiliated with this institution for more than 42 years. That is very, very special.”

The process of selecting the next president of Lamar University will begin immediately. An outside search firm will conduct a nationwide search for candidates, and an advisory committee appointed by the chairman of the Board of Regents of The Texas State University System will narrow the field of candidates to three. The advisory committee, will include members of the TSUS Board of Regents, Lamar University faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members. Chancellor Brian McCall will then recommend a sole finalist to the Board of Regents.

“It is a highlight of my career to have worked with Jimmy Simmons and to learn from Jimmy Simmons. He has guided Lamar through one of the brightest periods in its 89-year history and has positioned the university for even greater accomplishments ahead,” said Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall, who joined Simmons in making the announcement. “As we begin the process of searching for his successor, we are blessed with a university that is so much stronger, more resilient and more capable than it was before he became its president.”

From band director, to department chair, to college dean and interim vice president for advancement, to president – for more than four decades Simmons has been a key part of the history of Lamar University.

“There is not one time that I’ve come to this community for help that I have not received it,” Simmons said. “When I began my presidency we said there is strength in community and there is so much strength and support in this community I can’t tell you how envious many presidents across the country are of the relationship this university has with the community.”

“I’m here today to celebrate Jimmy’s retirement not just as a regent but as a friend for more than 30 years,” said TSUS Regent Bill Scott of Beaumont. “We call him a turnaround specialist. He’s really done a super job at Lamar, and he’s laid the groundwork for continued growth.”

“He is in my view the perfect university president, and he’s going to very difficult to replace,” said Steve Doblin, provost.

As president, Simmons has led the university into a new era of dynamic growth. Momentum has been the watchword of his administration, a period in which enrollment recorded its largest increase in Lamar’s history, from 7,800 when he began to more than 14,500 students in fall 2011.  Even in the wake of two major storms – Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008– Simmons and his team kept classes and graduation on schedule, restoring the campus after major damage and adding state-of-the-art facilities.

“Dr. Simmons is a wonderful president. He came at a very difficult moment,” said Valentin Andreev, associate professor of mathematics and former president of Faculty Senate. “He contributed enormously – unbelievably. It’s a sad day but happy because he also accomplished so much.”

Among his accomplishments is the significant growth in online education. By pairing innovative education delivery models with the university’s academic excellence, Simmons has made LU a recognized leader in online education in the state and beyond. More than 30 percent of Lamar’s semester credit hours are generated by online courses. Nearly 4,200 of Lamar’s current students will get their first glimpse of the campus when they attend their graduation ceremonies. The university further increased the scope of its online offerings by adding six new online programs this year.

The face of the campus has changed substantially during Simmons’ tenure. Many campus academic buildings have seen renovation; campus landscaping, signage and fencing were updated; and many new student-focused facilities have been built including five Cardinal Village residence halls, recreational sports center, and a state-of-the-art dining hall.

“I am so happy to have been able to work here at the university with Jimmy Simmons,” said Sherri Fitzgerald, president of the Staff Senate. “He has just been a wonderful influence on everyone – on campus, in the community, in the state. And he has really brought us great recognition.”

Simmons was instrumental in bringing football, and the excitement it embodies, back to the university after a 21-year absence. That decision led to the renovation and expansion of facilities: the football stadium, athletic complex, and new luxury suites.  Complementing the return of football are two other new athletic programs, women’s soccer and softball. The return of football also brought back to the campus the “Showcase of Southeast Texas” marching band, which invigorated another tradition: Lamar’s “Grandest Band in the Land,” which had 350 members when Simmons directed in the ’70s.

The university’s first-ever comprehensive campaign began under Simmons’ leadership and has raised more than $100 million for facilities, student scholarships and programs.

“Fifteen years ago, Dr. Simmons hired me as director of development,” said Camille Mouton, vice president for advancement. “We worked hard to build an understanding of the importance of private philanthropy among the university’s many friends and alumni. We had great aspirations, but never in our wildest dreams did we think Lamar’s first-ever campaign would raise $50 million, much less $100 million! His visionary leadership has inspired confidence from alumni and friends who have invested in our university and in educational opportunities for our students. Including the entire LU community in the process of improving our

university is having a tremendous impact on our students, faculty and staff.  Thanks to Dr. Simmons, Lamar University has been transformed. He has built a great foundation from which Lamar will continue to grow, and we are all committed to carrying on his legacy.”

Simmons holds a unique position among the nation’s top educational executives. An accomplished musician on clarinet, saxophone, and piano, he continues an active performance and conducting career after rising through the ranks as a music educator and administrator to Lamar’s 10th president. Response to Simmons’ appointment on Feb. 1, 1999, was enthusiastic – from his native Beaumont, throughout the region and from colleagues and former students across the country.

A member of the faculty and leadership team at Lamar for more than four decades, Simmons served as dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, as interim vice president of university advancement, as music department chair and as director of bands. Simmons joined the faculty in 1970. He earned his doctorate in music education from McNeese State University, his master of music degree from the University of Houston and bachelor of music education degree from Memphis State University.

Simmons has been the recipient of dozens of prestigious honors – the most recent on July 22, with induction into the Phi Beta Mu Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame. In selecting Simmons to become part of the Hall of Fame’s 2012 class, the international bandmasters fraternity continues its tradition of “honoring outstanding Texas band directors whose dedication and devotion to their profession was paramount.”

Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the oldest and largest music fraternity for men, honored Simmons in 2010 as a Signature Sinfonian. Also in 2010, the Christus Health Foundation of Southeast Texas paid tribute to Simmons at its 30th annual gala, billing him “Beaumont’s own king of horns” as he shared the spotlight with Chicago, featured entertainment attraction for the evening.

In 2009, he received the Chief Executive Leadership Award from District IV of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mexico.

The Press Club of Southeast Texas has twice honored him as Newsmaker of the Year (1999 and 2009), as well as naming him Newsmaker of the Decade. The Beaumont Chapter of the American Heart Association honored Simmons and his wife, Susan, with the Jay C. Crager Award, bestowed on an individual or individuals whose endeavors exemplify making the community a better place in which to live. Simmons also has been recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International, Executive of the Year by the Sales and Marketing Executive Club of Southeast Texas, as King Neches the 53rd and Citizen of the Year by the Neches River Festival and as “Mr. East Texas” by the Texas Dogwood Festival in Woodville.

Young Audiences of Beaumont honored Simmons with establishment of the annual Jimmy Simmons Artists Showcase – testament to his decades of contributions to the arts in the community. Beaumont’s annual Beaumont Jazz+Blues Festival, honored him as the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Raul Ornelas Lifetime Music Achievement Award “for his contributions to music and for being an exemplary citizen and ambassador to the city of Beaumont.”

“This is a sad day, but it’s also a day of celebration,” said TSUS Regent Rossanna Salazar of Austin.  “We’re celebrating the record of achievement that Dr. Simmons is leaving Lamar University with, and it’s a notable record. Of course, Dr. Simmons is an educational leader in the state of Texas and nationally. He leaves a tremendous legacy and a university that is poised for even greater things.”