JOHN CHESTER SIRMONS (1883-1953)
John C. Sirmons, a native of Berrien County, GA, served as a school teacher, principal, county superintendent, college professor, dean, and president. He culminated his career with two decades of tenure at North Georgia College, Dahlonega, GA.
John C. Sirmons was born November 30, 1883 in Berrien County, GA. He was a son of Moses G & Nancy E Knight, grand son of George W & Rhoda Futch Knight, great grandson of Aaron & Nancy Ann Sloan Knight, and great great grandson of William A & Sarah Cone Knight. d. 13 Aug 1953). He was a nephew of Perry Thomas Knight, and a brother of Thomas Jefferson Sirmons who would perish in the sinking of the H.M.S. Otranto in World War One.
The M.G. Sirmons place was about eight miles east of Nashville, GA. His father owned a farm of 260 acres on Land Lots 241 and 242 in the 10th Land District of Berrien County.
In 1900, sixteen-year-old John C. Sirmans was enumerated in his parent’s household in the 1148 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County.
After high school John C. Sirmons attended Sparks Collegiate Institute at Sparks, GA, about 12 miles west of Ray City. He took up teaching as his occupation and was also ordained as a minister.
In 1906 John Sirmons attended the combined Teacher’s Institute held in Tifton, GA for the public school teachers of Tift and Berrien counties. Other teachers attending from Berrien included J. S. Kirton, A. B. Conger, Miss Bertha McKinney, Miss Mary Ellington, John Smith, M. L. Webb, W.M. Tyson, Miss Mamie Shaw, Miss Della Shaw, Aaron Sirmons, Wm. Rhodes, T. W. Price, J. S. Parr, N. E. Patterson, E. C. Patterson, J. D. Overstreet, Mrs. J. D. Overstreet, Dan McPhaul, Miss Carrie McCranie, Mark McCranie and Miss Fannie Norris.
By 1908 Reverend John Chester Sirmons returned to his alma mater in Sparks where he joined the faculty of Sparks Collegiate Institute. There he taught in the Grammar School Department.
After a short stint at the Sparks Institute, John decided he needed more education if he was going to pursue a career in higher education. In 1909 he enrolled in Emory College to pursue a bachelors degree. There, he was accompanied by fellow Nashville, GA resident John Dixon Smith. Smith was born near Ray City, a son of Mary Jane Whitehurst and John Woodard Smith.
At the end of the freshman year John C. Sirmons returned to Berrien County for the summer; John Sirmans, age 26, was there on April 25,1910 on his father’s farm when enumerated for the 1910 census. He gave his occupation as School Teacher.
John continued his studies at Emory and in 1912 he was awarded the Bachelor of Philosophy degree with a major in English.
Emory University, 1912
John C. Sirmons, Jr., PH.B.
Entered College Fall 1909
Member of Few Literary Society; Ministerial Association; President of Emory Student Volunteer Band; Special Gym, ’10, ’11; Memorial Day Orator for Few, ’11; Fall-Term Debater, ’09; Impromptu Debater, ’11; Second Vice President of Y.M.C.A.; Speaker Senior Banquet; Track Team, ’11, All-Emory Track Team, ’11.
It is hard to explain “Cy” Sirmons’ popularity on any other ground except “all the world loves a lover.” Soon after “Cy” entered in ’09 the boys found out that his heart was in the keeping of a damsel fair. For if asked, and if not asked, he would tell all about her and how she looked when he asked her. When Dr. Walker Lewis took up a collection for LaGrange “Cy” made the largest contribution of any student declaring that he expected to get the best returns on that investment of any that he had ever made.
For John C. Sirmons, the 1912 Emory University yearbook noted “Coming events cast their shadow before them. The expected announcement came July 21, 1912.
July 21, 1912
Mr. and Mrs. George W. Moore, of Sparks, Ga., announce the engagement of their daughter, Sarah Estella, to Mr. John C. Sirmons, of Nashville, Ga., the wedding to take place August 20.
John C. Sirmons married Sarah Estelle Moore in Berrien County, GA on August 20, 1912. She was a graduate of Lagrange College, Class of 1911, with a Bachelors degree in Expression.
In the latter part of 1912, John C. Sirmans was involved in the production of the south Georgia Methodist conference at Waycross, GA.
Around early 1913, John and Estella moved from Georgia to Cherokee, San Saba County, Texas. John took a position as principal of the preparatory program at Cherokee Junior College. Their first child, Mary Helen Sirmons was born in San Saba County on July 1, 1913.
CHEROKEE JUNIOR COLLEGE. Cherokee Junior College, in Cherokee, San Saba County, was operated by the Llano, and later by the Lampasas District conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The college was housed in a building that had originally belonged to West Texas Normal and Business College. The Llano District conference bought the building from Francis Marion Behrns on April 4, 1911, for $20,000. C. A. Lehmberg served as the first president of Cherokee Junior College.
After only a year or two at Cherokee Junior College, John accepted the position of President of Pierce Collegiate Institute, Blackshear, Georgia. According to the text Pierce County, GA, Pierce Collegiate Institute was a military academy, formerly known as the Presbyterial Institute, which was acquired by the Waycross District Methodist Conference about 1913. The institute’s male students who participated in the program of military instruction were known as the Georgia Cadets, but the institution was also co-educational. The campus consisted of the main building, Williams Hall and Gordon Hall. There was a dining hall and a girl’s dormitory.
President Sirmons, of Pierce Collegiate Institute, was invited to address the graduates of Sparks Collegiate Institute during the commencement ceremonies held there on Tuesday, March 23, 1916. An interesting event at the commencement was the wedding of Miss Clifford Hendry to Reverend J. J. Ansley, pastor of the Methodist church at Nashville, GA. The bride was matron of the girls dormitory, which served as the setting for the wedding.
Officially, Sirmons continued to served as president of Pierce Collegiate Institute through December 5, 1916. In September 1916, he relocated to Atlanta and joined the faculty of Tech High School. This school was on Marietta Street from 1909 to 1924. Tech High offered a college preparatory curriculum that also included training in technical subjects. His teacher salary that year was $1350.00.
While teaching in Atlanta, John Sirmons suffered the indignity of having his car stolen. The car was recovered by Atlanta police and in attempting to claim his property, John encountered some difficulty which sparked an investigation into municipal graft.
After the 1916-1917 academic year at Tech High School, John C. Sirmons sought a chance to return to higher education. An opening at his former institution, Cherokee Junior College, provided the opportunity. The June 21, 1917 edition of The San Saba Star reported his return to Cherokee, TX to discuss a position as president of the institution:
The San Saba Star
June 21, 1917
Prof. J. C. Sirmons came in Wednesday from Georgia to see about accepting a position as president of the college, as Rev. McDonald had resigned. Prof. Sirmons was formerly a principal of the C.J.C. and has many warm friends here who welcome him back. While we are glad Prof. Sirmons is with us again, we sincerely regret that Rev. McDonald must leave us,for it is largely by his untiring efforts that the school has become what it is. He has succeeded in raising the standard of the college, adding on the Freshman course in a University. But his influence will ever be felt by his students, and the best wishes of a host of friends go with him.
The same edition of The San Saba Star, June 21, 1917 also reported J. C. Sirmons preaching at the Methodist Episcopal church of Cherokee, TX.
San Saba Star
June 21, 1917
Prof. J. C. Sirmons preached Sunday morning at the M. E. church.
Sunday night was Children’s Day exercises at the M. E. church. The little folks had been ably trained by their teachers, Misses Jessie Mae Ottinger, Stella Gay, and Ada Sims, and each one carried out their part well.
Cherokee Junior College entered it seventh year with President John C. Sirmons, of Berrien County, GA, at the helm, and his wife, Estella Moore Sirmons on the faculty. The September 17, 1918 issue of the San Saba Star entreated everyone to support the institution under its new president.
San Saba Star
August 30, 1917
Lest you forget that September 4 next Tuesday, is the opening day of the seventh year of the C. J. C. we kindly remind you, Let everyone prepare to help and make this a better year than any. We realize that conditions are unfavorable but let us not forget that now, in the adolesence period, is the time to train the boys and girls’ minds in the right way, and nowhere else can this be done so well as in the denominational schools, where under the supervision of Christian instructors they will be carefully trained. The faculty, with Prof. J. C. Sirmons as president, will be a strong one. One special feature is that Mrs. J. C. Sirmons will be the Expression teacher. She is most excellent in her line of work. Prof. W. Jeff Wilcox still continues as head of the music department: Let every one do his or her part for a better C. J. C.
President Sirmon’s inaugural year was bookended by a senior celebration for the class of 1918. The San Saba Star May 16, 1918 reported the event:
San Saba Star
May 16, 1818
Last Monday April the 6th the Senior Class of the C.J.C. had their Class Day exercises. About ten-thirty the students assembled in the Auditorium. The Seniors had charge of the Chapel exercises, and from that they succeeded to the Class Day Program. The class history, class prophecy, class will were read, then the class Giftorian presented the gifts, and the class musicians played the class song and the class sang it.
After the program the Seniors went up to Grays Mill pond to spend the afternoon. They were accompanied by Mrs. Sirmons and small son, Derrel. A happy time was spent on the creek kodaking, and in various other ways. The day will long be remembered in the annals of the C. J. C. by the following Seniors: Missess Flay Farmsworth, Rosalie Bragg, Sallie May Burke, Melba Wilcox, Marie Barber, Julia Hart, Lydia Keese, Jessie Allison, and Messrs. Tom Nelson Gay, and Ralph Thompson.
But the hope of John C. Sirmons presidency of Cherokee Junior College was not to endure. The institution, which had accepted students since 1911, reported a small enrollment in the fall of 1918. On July 21, 1921, the property would be sold to the school trustees of San Saba County for $20,000. “The building was used as a public school until it burned on January 30, 1945. In 1978 Cherokee High School stood on the site, the entrance to the old college having been incorporated in the new structure.”
From personal notices in The San Saba Star it appears that by January 1919, John C. Sirmons departed Cherokee Junior College and was working in Fort Worth, although Estella and the children remained in Cherokee, TX.
The San Saba Star
January 16, 1919
“Rev. J. C. Sirmons of Fort Worth spent the week with his family.”
The 1920 Census found John C. Sirmons, his wife Sarah Estella Moore Sirmons, daughter Mary Helen and son John Derrell back in San Saba County, TX renting a home near Cherokee. The occupation of both John and Estella was recorded as teaching public school.
It appears that shortly thereafter, John C. Sirmons and his family returned to Berrien County, GA. He was there in time to join Ray City citizens who fought the creation of Lanier County, GA.
In 1922, John C. Sirmons was himself back in school. He returned to Emory University, Atlanta, GA where he registered in the Graduate School. For his graduate studies he was awarded a Master of Arts in Education.
In 1924, John C. Sirmons was serving as principal of Tifton High School, Tifton, GA. In the summer of 1924 he attended the UGA summer school for county superintendents and in 1925 he was Superintendent of Tift County schools.
In 1927 he joined the faculty of what was then the South Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical College at Tifton, GA. The College was formerly the Second District A&M School, a “college preparatory boarding school” for students from 14-21 years of age, which had offered two and four-year programs with a study of agriculture for boys and a study of home economics for girls. In 1927, the school was transitioning from a high school to college curriculum. Beginning in the fall of 1928 only college-level classes were offered. In 1929, the name of the institution was changed to the Georgia State College for Men (GSCM), and in 1933 it was renamed Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
John Continued to work at the college through 1931. In 1928 he was president of the Tifton Kiwanis Club and in 1930 he a member of the “Flying Squadron,” a group of four Kiwanian singers (H. D. Webb, J. C. Sirmons, Otis Woodard, and A. F. Darden) in the club.
The 1930 Census shows John, Estella and son Derrell residing in Tifton, Georgia. John’s occupation was “college professor; Estella was working as a public school teacher They were renting a home at 810 Love Avenue. Their next door neighbor was Orion Mitchell, head football coach at the college. In 1931, Mitchell would lead the fledgling GSCM team to a 14-13 victory over the University of Miami.
By 1932 John C. Sirmons accepted a position at North Georgia College, Dahlonega, GA. He served as Registrar and was also a faculty member in Education.
John C. Sirmons, native of Berrien County, GA, served as Registrar and Dean of North Georgia College for over twenty years. A number of young men and women of Berrien County attended North Georgia College during his time of service, including Jimmy Grissett, Jamie Connell, Joe Donald Clements, Wilson Connell, Marie Sirmans, John Franklin Miller, Walter Buddie Dickson, James Donald Rowan, Donald Willis, William Henry Mathis,John David Luke, Eddie Brogdon, George W. Chism, Jack Rutherford, Donald Keefe, William Luke, W.D. Alexander, Bill Roquemore, and Donald Keefe.
In 1940 John C. Sirmons was admitted to Duke University as a graduate student pursuing an advanced degree. Duke University was some 470 miles from Dahlonega, but Sirmons continued in his position as Dean at NGC; hemust have been enrolled in a correspondence program or low residency program that did not require regular attendance in Durham, NC.
The Census of 1940 shows John and Estella, and their son Derrell were living in Dahlonega, renting a house valued at $6000. Estella was working as a school teacher; Derrell was a student at medical college. The 1940 enumeration of John C. Sirmons does not indicate he owned a farm or reference a farm schedule, but Sirmons must have acquired or rented an agricultural property by 1940. In 1939, while he continued to serve as Dean of the college, John C. Sirmons also went into poultry production under contract to Jesse D. Jewell, Inc. Sirmons “began with a small chicken house in 1939 and later in the 1940s built a larger one, growing flocks of 10,000 birds for Jesse Jewell’s expanding poultry empire.”
About 1943 Estella Sirmons joined the NGC faculty. She had been serving as the principal of the school at Suches, GA.
John C. Sirmons was ill in 1953 and unable to attend events at the college. He died August 13, 1953. He was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega, GA.
The Cadet Bugler
North Georgia Loses Beloved Dean Emeritus
Read in Assembly
October 1, 1953
A man has passed away at North Georgia College which leaves a lonely place on our campus. Dean. J. C. Sirmons has gone to his heavenly inheritance.
Christianity is a triumphant thing. Sometimes when the heart is lifted on the wings of song we feel it. Under the spell of a great speech or sermon we feel it again. And the truth sweeps over us in great tides when we look upon a life like that of Cy Sirmons. Christianity IS a triumphant thing!
I was on the way to the college when the news came to me of Dean Sirmons’ passing. I am at that stage in my own journey when I cannot afford to lose friends. Sometimes when we look over our shoulder and see good friends passing away into the shadows beside the road, then we feel a loneliness as we go on under the burden of grief. Sometimes you think life is hard, even evil. Then, if you have the sort of faith that made Dean Sirmons’ life shine in the stars, you realize that they have not simply dropped into the shadows, but have passed from the light – through the night – into the light as God promised. This assurance strengthens you, and girded with this great truth, you lengthen your step, fix your hand a little more firmly in the hand of GOd, and keep working toward your own bend in the road.
I have seen many alumni and friends of North Georgia College both here and in other parts of the State. Wherever I go, people ask, “Do you know Cy Sirmons? How is Dean Sirmons now?” School teachers have remarked upon his great sense of humor. Some have said, “He helped me with a smile and a good story when I felt awfully blue.” Rich, poor, girl, boy, man, and woman found in him a sympathetic friend.
Cy Sirmons was a man whose halo was unstained and who well found it easy to exchange the royal robes of earthly servant for whatever spotless garment God provides for those who pass under the shining arch. The world is a better place because J. C. Sirmons lived on the campus of North Georgia College for a score of years.
-By Will D. Young, Dean
At North Georgia College an annex to Lewis Hall was added in 1966. The dorm was called Sirmon’s hall after John Sirmons, Registrar and Dean from 1932 until 1949. This dorm served the campus until 2011.