By Dave Rogers

For The Record

A former student’s trip down Memory Lane has set up an interesting Saturday graduation ceremony for Orangefield High School.

A pair of 90-year-old brothers will be among those “crossing the stage” for their diplomas at the 11 a.m. commencement at the Beaumont Civic Center.

“Oh, I tell you, I’m just blown out of the water, I’m so amazed,” Abe Simon said. “I’ll be getting my high school diploma. It’s about time at 90 years old!”

In tough times made worse by the Great Depression, Abe Simon and his older brother, Stanley Simon, 95, never got to finish their schooling in Orangefield.

World War II got in the way.

Younger members of the Orangefield Class of 2017 first became aware of Abe Simon in October.

That’s when the longtime Baptist preacher from Virginia returned to the Golden Triangle to visit brother Stanley, who lives in Beaumont with his wife of 71 years, Gladys.

Abe wanted to show his son, John, his old school and Orangefield Superintendent Stephen Patterson soon learned of Abe’s dropout status.

““A while back the state Legislature passed a law that

if an individual left school during wartime, they were eligible to receive their diploma,” Patterson said. “This was the first time anyone had brought a situation like that to my attention.”

Within an hour, school officials had gathered the band and a large group of students in the school gym and Patterson presented him with a diploma.

“The kids brought it to our attention that he was part of the Class of 2017, and they encouraged him to return in May for commencement,” Patterson recalled.

“He said ‘I’d like to, and I have a brother.’ We looked at his record and he fell into the same category. So the brothers will be participating together about 70 years after leaving high school.”

Abe and Stanley Simon are the only two of Charles and Lydia Prince Simon’s seven children still alive.

Their dad worked at Port Arthur’s Gulf Refinery as a welder, but fell ill with cancer and couldn’t work. Their mother also was ill.

“One of the things I remember was hunger; there wasn’t always enough food to eat,” Abe recalled.

“Bob and Stanley, my older brothers, they went off to the service. It was our brothers’ allotments that helped us through those tough times.”

Stanley enlisted in 1940, prior to the U.S. entering World War II, and was stationed in Galveston. He trained civilians entering the service.

A Staff Sergeant with the 60th Antiaircraft Artillery, he landed on Omaha Beach during the D-Day Invasion in 1944. He participated in the liberation of France and the conquest of the Germans.

In the Battle of the Bulge, he suffered frost bite and was injured by an explosion that left him with blurred vision and permanent hearing loss.

He won a chest full of medals. Earlier this spring, representatives of the French government came to Beaumont to give him another.

But Stanley’s top prize is beside him, wife Gladys Theriot, a nursing student from Port Arthur he married in 1946. They had five children, who, in turn, gave them 12 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and eight great great-grandchildren.

Stanley spent 36 years as a master machinist at Port Arthur’s Standard Brass. Then he and Gladys retired to Colmesneil in 1983, where they stayed busy as Eucharistic ministers at Our Lady of the Pine Catholic Church.

Two years ago, they moved to a senior living center in Beaumont.

Stanley’s younger brother Abe enlisted in the Army on his 18th birthday in mid-1945 and was training for the expected invasion of Japan when the United States dropped the atomic bombs that ended World War II.

He returned to Southeast Texas and worked in a refinery until he answered the call to preach in 1948.

He enrolled in East Texas Baptist College in Marshall, Texas, where he first saw his wife, Ruth, singing in a church choir.

“I joined the choir the next week,” he said, “and we made beautiful music for together 65 years.”

The couple had four children, 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren when Ruth passed away in 2014.

“We were church planters,” Abe said, explaining he and Ruth helped start seven churches in Texas and Virginia over the years.

He has nearly 60 years of ministry experience and has been Associate Pastor of Clover Hill Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, since 1988.

“I think we’re all richer,” Patterson said, “for the experience of getting to know them and getting to know their story.”