One of the friendliest residents you will meet at Payson Care Center in Payson, Arizona, is Bessie Simmons-Scott.
“She’s 107, and she’s the life of the party,” said Wesley Still, registered nurse. “She is a total joy to everyone in our facility, including other residents’ family members.”
Simmons-Scott came to Payson Care Center on Dec. 12, 2015, at age 106. However, her joyful spirit and enthusiastic kindness have been evident throughout her life.
Born in March 1909 in San Antonio, Texas, Simmons-Scott started her career as a nurse in California. However, she felt another career calling to her – running a restaurant.
In 1940, she moved to Winslow, Arizona, where she put down roots. She married Ralph Simmons in 1942, and together they ran Ralph and Bessie’s Barbecue. They served Southern favorites like barbecue sandwiches, fried chicken, biscuits and pies.
Besides the good food, the service was hard to beat. Simmons-Scott would check on the patrons frequently to chat and tease them about not finishing their plates.
When the local paper ran a story about the restaurant in April 2016, dozens of people responded positively in Facebook comments, reminiscing about the restaurant and its owners.
"They had a way of always making you feel welcome and like you were family,” said Bea Elzey.
“I remember their business out on the East end of town when I first moved to Winslow in 1964,” said David Riker. “I would go have a barbecue sandwich and some strawberry shortcake. Wonderful people.”
“No matter how busy they were, Bessie and Ralph always had a smile on their faces,” said Vicky Espinosa. “They always made room for us. Best food ever!”
The couple sold the restaurant after 25 years in business, but even in “retirement,” the Simmons were an integral part of the community. Simmons was elected to the city council and was the first black individual to serve in that capacity.
Meanwhile, Simmons-Scott became the head chef for the Happy Senior Citizens Center, which fed about 145 community seniors a day. About half of those lunches were delivered to seniors in their homes.
In an article in the Winslow Mail published July 27, 1978, Simmons-Scott said, “This place is busy from about 11 a.m. on into the afternoon. We have good meals: fried chicken, pork chops, fish, casseroles, enchiladas. I can cook all kinds of food. But my specialty is pies.”
Those who have come in contact with Simmons-Scott over the years, though, might say she has two specialties: good food and hospitality.