The Keys to Success

He had a knack for knowing a good instrument–and a child in need–when he saw one.

By Bobby Simma, Perkins, Oklahoma

As appeared in

Perkins Tryon Elementary had 500 students and as principal I was responsible for all of them. One second grader, I’ll call her Lettie, was missing a birth certificate. I’d made dozens of pleas to the Division of Vital Records, but we still didn’t have the supporting documents.

“Lettie’s teacher is also concerned she can’t see the board,” my secretary told me after yet another frustrating phone call. How would we ever know what kind of student she could be if she was struggling to see? I drove out to Lettie’s address to talk to her parents.

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This wasn’t the kind of work I’d envisioned doing. In fact, I’d always thought I’d wind up working with pianos. I didn’t have a desire to perform professionally–much as I loved playing at home with the family, and at retirement homes with my wife, Dayna.

What I really wanted to do was recycle pianos. With the help of some well-financed organization, I imagined, I could get all the good pianos out there gathering dust into churches, schools, public spaces–places where people would really appreciate them.

I wished I could start with a replacement for the tired old spinet piano I played at school.

“So you want to be a piano rescuer,” Dayna always joked.

I inherited my love of the piano from my mother, who had bought her first at 10 years old from money she earned raising pigs. When I was a boy, that same old Cable Wellington Upright sat in the only place we had room for it–my bedroom.

Sometimes when I had trouble falling asleep I’d play a key softly to soothe me. My own three children learned to play too. We were a musical family, and I wished I could share that kind of fun with everyone.

If only we had a better piano at the school, I thought as I parked by the trailer where Lettie lived. But there were things Lettie needed more than a piano–like a birth certificate and probably glasses.

It was my job to get the kids what they needed. I’d leave it to the angels to take care of their musical influences.

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I approached the trailer and knocked. Lettie’s father answered. “Well now, what do you want, Mister?” he asked.

I explained who I was. “I’d like to take Lettie to have her eyes checked,” I said. “The state insurance plan will pay for it.” He agreed to let me make an appointment. Soon Lettie’s teacher would see just how well she could do–I was sure.

My small victory with Lettie made me optimistic when I attended a school surplus auction days later. I picked up a couple of chairs, some adjustable-height tables, a pull-down wall map and...what was that?

There, in the corner, nearly covered by junk, was a piano. A Yamaha P22 Studio. Not a bad model. But how does it play? Even the best tuning couldn’t fix a bad piano. I had a knack for knowing which ones were beyond repair.

I put my hands on the keys and ran through “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Beautiful! No matter how it might look on the outside, this was one solid instrument inside. A quick call back to the school and I had permission to bid for it. I got it for $150!

The Monday after it was delivered, the kids filed into the auditorium for an assembly. They pointed at me behind the new piano, which I’d polished and asked my friend Larry to tune. I struck up the opening chords of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and looked out at the children’s faces.

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Your Comments (11)

You where my principle almost 20 years ago at woodland elementary school. I now live in new
Jersey and have a son that's about to turn 7. He loves it when I sing to him and tell him stories,
And one day he asked me where I learned all the songs I know and my answer was Woodland wakeup
With my principal Mr. Simma. My sons teachers laugh when they talk to me about how my son
Son know songs like Let Me Call You Sweetheart, In the good old summertime, and songs about
Riding on the back of a crocodile. You instilled in me a deep love and passion for music. And while you may not
Remember me, every time I see a Judy garland film on tv or see Fred Astaire tap dancing on television,
I think fondly of you and how you enhanced and guided my young mind in a way that has lasted my entire life.
If you read this god bless you.
Melissa mobley mandall

Yes, yes, yes I remember you, Melissa! Your note made me tear up as I read it to my wife after seeing it. Thanks for making my day. Love that son with all you have, and I wish you all of God's best.
Bobby Simma

thank you Mr Simms for all the love you are sharing with these precious children. they will never ever forget you!
we all need to do alot more spreading the love of JESUS.
we all have different gifts and talents to share!

Beautiful! Thank you Bobby for sharing your lovely talents with the world and your love for all God's magnificent little children. You encourage us all to be all for God's glory.

Mr Simma has a great heart and his love for music and children definitely shine through in this great article! I wish everyone reading it could actually here hear how amazing he plays!

You and Mrs. Rice certainly had a great impact on me. Our morning songs with the door open between the two classrooms is a cherished memory. I'm welling up with tears as I type. I pray that my kids have such amazing Christian role models in their lives. You are one in a million, Mr. Simma!!! (Still can't bring myself to call you Bobby!)

I can't thank you enough for all you do for our kiddos. You truly are a blessing!!!

Your love for our children shines through! Blessed to have you in our lives!!

So blessed to have Mr. Simma in my children's lives! Thank you for everything you do!

This young man spreads joy wherever he goes! He is truly an inspiration! There are many happy people in this world because of having met and enjoyed his contagious joy in life. Blessings, Bobby...keep it up!

Thank you for sharing your heartwarming story. God bless you, it seems you're doing the wonderful things He made you to do.