In tribute: Builders contributed to Clovis history

Kevin Wilson

A drive through Clovis or a talk with family and friends gives clear indication — Duffy Sasser and Cotton Simms were, so to speak, above par as residents and leaders.

But the versatile architects, students and businessmen never thought of themselves that way.

“He was one of those people from the quiet generation that did their business and never bragged about it and never drew attention,” said son Duffy Sasser Jr. “The times we considered hardship, it was just part of life.”

Simms died Sept. 3, Sasser Oct. 1.

Simms, born Jan. 28, 1912, in Panhandle, Texas, and Sasser, born April 9, 1918, in Hagerman, came to Clovis about two decades apart. But both played a hand in turning some of the county’s flattest farmland into a golf course and housing combo that is now known as Colonial Park.

Sasser’s family moved to Clovis when he was a young boy, as parents George and Addie opened the Fox Drug Store. When he got old enough, Duffy would work wherever needed, be it soda jerk, assistant pharmacist or floor sweeper.

The store also helped his interests in radio — he acquired an amateur radio license at 13 — and photography.

After he returned from college in the early 1940s, Sasser married high school sweetheart Vivienne Crain and opened Fox Photo (later renamed Duffy’s). The shop brought overnight photo developing to Clovis and a network of New Mexico and Texas cities and, at its highest point, processed one million rolls of film a year and was Kodak’s top customer.

While Sasser was setting up his photography business in the early ’40s, the Simms family was getting acclimated to Clovis.

They were expanding Southwestern Investment from Amarillo and decided Clovis was the place to set up an office in 1941. They also bought a large piece of land north of the city for $55 an acre.

“The guys at the bank told them they’d never get it paid for,” said Mickey Simms, who was 3 when his father moved the family to New Mexico. “He had it paid for in three years.”

The land would become much more valuable after a chance meeting. Mickey Simms said. His father and Dr. I.D. Johnson were out of town golfing and ran into Warren Cantrell, president of the Professional Golfers Association. Cantrell told them about an interesting course, surrounded by houses.

That’s where the idea came to build Colonial Park, and Simms sought out Sasser — who did a thesis on sprawl and city planning while he was attending Woodbury College in Los Angeles.

When he came back, he worked with his family on real estate and building new homes. The younger Duffy Sasser said he was never at a loss for work while his father and others were helping build Clovis.

“I do remember in high school he was putting up houses just east of Clovis High School,” said the younger Sasser, who now works in property management in Connecticut. “We were putting up three to four buildings a week.

“One day, a truck would show up at about dawn. We’d unload the parts. We’d have a front door up, with the doors locked, usually within 30 days.”

Sasser helped design the layout for the park, and named the streets. Eventually, Mickey Simms said, they had to add a snack bar. Soon after, golfers started bringing their own beer. At that point, the two — heavily involved in their churches — sold the country club so they weren’t conflicted about any alcohol sales issues.

As the course grew, so did Colonial Park.

Mitch Simms, Cotton’s grandson, lives on Gail Jackson Court and tells people he’s got a place on the family farm. Property value has gone up “slightly,” he said, from the family’s original $55 per acre price.

“I have about three-quarter of an acre on the cul-de-sac corner,” Mitch Simms said. “It was a lot more than that.”

Their footprints stretched beyond Colonial Park, though. Nancye Gressett, who became a daughter-in-law when the widowed Sasser married her mother, Pauline Williams, said she can lose count of Sasser-created buildings in the area. Sasser was a developer in 13 other subdivisions, including Jonquil Park, Sandzen and Iris Arbor.

“One thing that was really impressive was his work ethic,” Gressett said. “He gave such attention to detail in everything he did. He was involved in so many different subdivisions and developments, and some shopping centers. He could do architecture work, he could do legal work, he did photography.”

Simms had his own outside interests, notably anything related to Texas Tech. Mickey Simms said 18 family members have graduated from the Lubbock school, and the Cotton Simms Memorial Scholarship Fund has helped about 20 Clovis students attend TTU.

He also was active into his 90s, whether it was flying a plane until he turned 94, or walking four miles a day. Mitch Simms said the walking slowly went down to about one mile a day, enough to make sure he could still walk the golf course or travel a fishing path along property he owned in Colorado.

“Dad had a motor home for years and years,” Mickey Simms said. “We probably fished every sizable bass lake in Mexico. We drug a little metal boat we could drag out without a ramp. You just catch 100 fish a day, and they’re four-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half pounds each.”

In their final years, each would often visit family around the country, and both couldn’t help but note reminders of their own mortality. Mitch Simms said his grandfather half-joked he wouldn’t have any pallbearers when his time came.

Duffy Jr. said his father outlived most of his friends, and some of their children. When he went home for funeral services, funeral cards stacked more than two inches high remained on his kitchen counter.

In his obituary, the Sasser family referred to their father as a photographer, amateur radio operator, aviator, reporter, editor, publisher, scholar, entrepreneur, real estate developer, civic leader, Sunday school teacher, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather and loyal friend. But they felt “Gentle Giant,” a simple inscription on a 2008 city award, described him best.

“The man was a tremendous fellow,” the younger Sasser said. “I always admired him. He was bright, hard-working. He did everything.”