Let’s Talk Clovis: Academy “Mayor” Robert “Bob” Simpson

Left: Robert “Bob” Simpson, 1894-1977. Right: Roberta and Bud Simpson. (Courtesy of Clovis Museum)

Robert “Bob” Simpson (future “Mayor” of Academy) was born on February 5, 1894 at Academy in the big white house next to the granite quarry. His father Charles Marvin Simpson (born 1869 at Academy) was the son of John Greenup Simpson (1829-1877) who arrived at Big Dry Creek (later called Academy) area in 1852.

John Greenup Simpson was one of the earliest settlers of that area. He became a prominent stock man, owned over 7,000 acres, served as the first County Tax Collector and became a Superintendent of County Schools. He and his wife Sarah donated land for the 1868 Academy Church, the parsonage and the Academy cemetery.

John and Sarah had lost three children on their journey to California. Each child was buried at different locations. Their ten year old son died in 1867 and was buried at Academy Cemetery. The cemetery is located on Mendocino Ave (from Hwy 168).

The Academy School (Fresno County’s first secondary school) was built in 1870. It was located approximately one thousand feet southwest of the Academy Church. It was enlarged in 1872 and served the Dry Creek School District until 1920.

It was demolished but the materials were used to build the new Dry Creek School on Tollhouse Road (Hwy 168) near the post office. In 1947 the school was moved to Nees and Armstrong Avenues and remained there until 1970. Clovis civic leader Emil Prudek purchased the school for one dollar. He returned the historic school to its present location on Madsen Ave.

Bob’s mother, Ida May Hedgepeth Simpson was the daughter of Rev. Joel Hedgepeth, who was minister at the Academy Church. He was the first minister to serve the 1893 Clovis Methodist Episcopal Church South.

Bob was Valedictorian at his Sanger high School graduation. His goal was to become a veterinarian but he remained on the ranch so that his two sisters could attend UC Berkeley.

WWI interrupted that goal and he joined the U.S. Army and fought in France. He married Ella Mae Swigart born at Letcher (near Academy) in April of 1919. They were blessed with twins, Roberta and Robert ‘Bud”, on November 10, 1919. The twins attended the Academy School and graduated from Clovis High in 1937.

Their son Bud joined the Marines during WWII and was killed on November 11, 1943 at Tarawa. He was awarded the Navy Cross. His father Bob would never speak of the two wars or the loss of their son.

Bob was recognized as a professional cowboy and he was known for his “doctoring” of animals. He was a “gifted” veterinarian without a degree. As an active “older” cowboy, the “young bucks” learned from his knowledge of the “high” country during their cattle drives.

He presided as “Mayor” of Academy at the Academy store which was operated by his mother-in-law Fanny Swigart.  He was very vocal about the flawed government that “stole” Simpson Meadow (middle fork of the Kings River). His granddaughters, Jeanne and Joanne, remember he was always “good” for lots of candy during their visits.

In 1969, Bob was the Grand Marshall of the Clovis Rodeo Parade. His four month old great grandson (Gary Hill) shared his saddle during the parade.

Roberta Simpson Coon (Bob’s daughter, 1919-2013), her two daughters Jeanne Kelton and Joanne Mitchell, Joanne’s son Gary Hill are dedicated “custodians” of the 1868 Academy Church preservation.

Seven generations of the John and Sarah Simpson family and descendants of the pioneers of Big Dry Creek/Academy have contributed to our rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.