Alvin J. ""Big Al"" Simpkins (1926 - 2017)

Obituary
2 entries
  • "He was a wonderful father to us all."
    - Donna Tackett
  • "AL was a very special man we started together on Dunnellon..."
    - Debbie Rich
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Alvin "Big Al" Simpkins, 91, died Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017.

He was born June 4, 1926, in Fairfield, Conn., to parents Alvin J. Simpkins Sr. and Katherine Rentz Simpkins.

In 1952, he moved to Hialeah, FL with his wife Barbara.

After 16 years there and employed by Pan Am World Airways, he moved his family to Florida Highlands in Marion County in 1968.

After moving to Marion County with his wife and five children in a remote area of Southeastern Marion County, he approached the local telephone company, United Telephone CEO, to ask that phone service be installed from Ocala. At that time, there were only two horse ranches in the 20 miles from Ocala to Florida Highlands and the Citrus County line. The CEO argued that there were not enough residents to justify the expense to run cable 20 miles from Ocala to the Citrus County line and if he could get 25 people with deposits, they would consider running the cable. He said the chances of doing this would be impossible.

After three weeks, he presented the required deposits and United Telephone reluctantly installed service to the Citrus County line.

During his years as a resident here, he was instrumental and actively involved with starting the Dunnellon Rescue Squad. During these years, he was one of the first in a group of seven volunteers to start the rescue squad as an EMT and later as captain and converted its first rescue vehicle from a four-wheel drive pick-up truck as needed to also cover remote areas in Gulf Hammock, Levy County and parts of Citrus County.

In his 16 years as a volunteer, he approached the Marion County Commission with other community leaders of Dunnellon, Russ James (Dunnellon Press), Gary Manning (manager of WTRS Radio), Paul Johnson (Chamber of Commerce), Jack Fitch (Fitch Real Estate); and started the beginning and subsequent re-birth of what is now known as the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport.

Marion County, during those years, declared that it could not fund any money for the airport and hearing this, he succeeded in advising the commission to bid out the large growth of pine lumber on the property, bringing in $90,000. As chairman of the Airport Advisory Board, he actively sought ways and means to return the airport to an operating business and an asset to Marion County.

Attending the regional district meeting of the FAA in Orlando, FL., he was able to get a $25,000 grant from the state of Florida, Aviation Division to start a master plan for the airport and helped designate the future of the airport in conjunction with the consultants. He also helped organize and produce two air shows at the airport and served as safety director for both events.

During his 20 years as a licensed building contractor, he built the first two Geodesic Dome Homes in Marion County and one in Citrus County. Other buildings were the Dunnellon Press, the addition to the Dunnellon Fire Department, Dunnellon Public Works Water facility and Florida Highlands Fire House.

Organizations he was part of were: Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council, known as EMSAC, which was the guiding group setting up ambulance and rescue services for the county; chairman and member of the Dunnellon Marion County Airport Advisory Board, 1977 to 1999; charter member and Chief of the Florida Highlands Volunteer; and fire department.

Received the "Service Above Self Award" from the Dunnellon Chamber of Commerce in recognition of starting the redevelopment of the airport and his successful efforts to start medical and fire services in Marion County.

Military service started as an enlisted aviation cadet in high school in 1943 in the U.S. Army Air Corp. He entered active service in 1944 and was sent to Biloxi, Miss., for basic training. The pilot program was stopped during this time and he was sent to Kingman Air Force Base in Arizona and trained as a ball turret gunner on B17's. During his flight training, he was one of a very small group of people who had the distinction of flying into the Grand Canyon in a B-17 Flying Fortress. Due to lack of aircraft to assign crews, he was sent to Childress, Texas, and having had a mechanical background in school, was assigned as an aircraft maintenance chief. Shortly afterward, he was sent to Madison, Wis., for transition to the European Theatre of Operation or ETO.

After a few days, he was discharged from the Army Air Corp and enlisted into the U.S. Air Force then sent to New York and sent to Europe on a troopship. While on active service in France and Germany, he was assigned to the 884th Air Engineering squadron as a maintenance chief. After a few months in Germany, he was sent to Marseille, France, to Istres Airfield to start a flying school for newly arriving pilots and salvaging aircraft for them to fly. He returned to Eshborn, Germany, later and resumed duties of maintenance chief until returning to the U.S.

After discharge, he was in the reserves for six years. His love of aircraft prompted him to seek jobs in these companies: he worked for United Aircraft and helped assemble the last five Corsair fighters built there before they moved the plant to Texas. He worked as a modification specialist for Arthur Godfrey's CAA Repair Station at the airport in Stratford, Conn. After Godfrey closed the business, he was hired as a final inspector on the first jet engines built by AVCO Manufacturing Company in the former United Aircraft facility at the Stratford, Conn., Airport.

He is a charter member of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, La.

In 1952, he and Barbara Sexton married and moved to Hialeah, Fla., where he started work with Pan AM World Airways and was with them 16 years as a modification and electrical specialist.

He is survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Barbara; daughters, Donna Rose Tackett and husband Michael; Laura Katherine Brumby and husband Bill; sons, Daniel Thomas Simpkins and wife Debbie; Brian Alvin Simpkins and wife Patty; and, Gary Scott Simpkins; brothers, Donald Simpkins and wife Dorothy; Lorenz Simpkins and wife Phyllis; and, Gerald Simpkins and wife Lorraine; grandchildren Michelle Smith Brown, Jolene Marie Smith, Justin Daniel Simpkins, Jared Thomas Simpkins and his wife Samantha, Meghan Layne Brumby, William Hunter Brumby, Brian Michael Simpkins and Kristi McKenzie; great- grandchildren, William Wyatt Brown, Emma Ryley Brown, Caden Faith Simpkins, Ella Hope Simpkins, Bailey Grace Simpkins, Mason Grady Simpkins and Jace McKenzie; and several nieces and nephews in Florida, New Jersey and Georgia.

Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at Roberts Funeral Home, 19939 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Dunnellon.
Funeral Home
Roberts Funeral Home And Crematory Of Dunnellon Inc
19939 E Pennsylvania Ave
Dunnellon, FL 34432
(352) 489-2429
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Published in Riverland News on Jan. 4, 2018
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