When someone needs a car, lawn mower or well pump fixed or some kind of home repair done in the Lockhart area of Union County, George Sims' neighbors are likely to call him for help.
“When something breaks, call George,” said his daughter, Sabrina Sims.
George Sims Sr., pastor of Mount Prospect Baptist Church in Chester, worked with machines most of his adult life at Upstate plastics plants, like Paragon and Sonoco. He's also worked as a quality control inspector and heavy equipment operator
Sims retired, but his daughter, an admissions counselor at Spartanburg Community College, encouraged him to get a certificate at the college, so he could help senior citizens in need. On Thursday night, Sims will attend graduation and receive a certificate in HVAC repair as the college's oldest graduate at 69.
“Now, I'm a jack of all trades, master of two - preaching and HVAC,” Sims said, with a smile. “This way, I can help senior citizens who can't afford to get their units fixed.”
Sims said it was intimidating at first, heading back to class after so many years. He graduated from Sims High School in Union in 1961 but didn't attend college.
“It'd been a long time since I was deep in the books, except for the Bible,” he said. “I kind of had my doubts about it.”
He sat next to the youngest student in the class, a 16 year old. His instructor, John Mathis, said it didn't take long for Sims, who the students call “Rev,” to earn respect.
“They treated me like the daddy or something,” Sims said with a smile. Two students later went to Sims' church and sat with his family.
Sims said when he first started, he didn't have a clue about the parts of an air conditioner.
“Everything was a 'gizmo,' I didn't know the names of nothing,” he said with a laugh. “But Mr. Mathis is the best instructor in the world. He gives it to you plain.”
Sabrina Sims said she realized that her dad was well liked and made an impression on the much younger men in his class when Sims became ill and had to go to the hospital. It later turned out that Sims had not eaten properly that day, but at first, doctors thought he had a heart attack. Sabrina said many of her father's classmates and instructors on the hall where the HVAC program is taught called her to ask about him.
“It was a big sense of relief to them when it wasn't a heart attack,” Sabrina said.
Of Spartanburg Community College's 894 graduates this year, only four, including Sims, are 60 and older, with Sims being the oldest. Another 114 are in their 40s, and 46 receiving degrees are in their 50s.
Sims will wear a cap and gown for Thursday's ceremony, which begins at 7 p.m. at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium.
“I'm 70 years old - I wouldn't miss it,” he said.
His daughter, four sons, nine grandchildren, and his wife of 44 years, Mearlean, will also be there to see him walk across the stage.
“I think half the church is going to be there, too,” Sabrina said. She said she's proud of her dad, who is often up at 6 a.m. to work on a project. Now that he has his certification, she expects him to be more active.
“This will get him out of the house and quit getting Mama up at 6 a.m.,” she said, with a laugh.
“It shows that no matter how old you get, you can always improve yourself,” said Sims' oldest son, George Sims Jr. “I'm real proud of him.”
And while he's looking forward to helping others stay warm in the winter or cool during summer, George Sims Sr. said he also wanted to set an example in obtaining a certificate, which he plans to bring to his church to show the young people of his congregation.
“People need to know that if they can't find work, they can go to SCC and within one year, become a technician and start their own business,” Sims said. “And I wanted to show the young boys out here, that if a 70-year-old man can do it, they can do it, too.”
Photo by JOHN BYRUMfirstname.lastname@example.org
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