It was a Thursday in early April, an informal gathering at Herd & Horns across the street from North Dakota State’s still snowy campus. It was the first of many salutes, formal and informal alike, to one of the best that’s ever done it at NDSU, Pat Simmers. Since 1998, “Simms” has been the executive director of NDSU’s Team Makers Club, and a larger than life figure doing most of his work behind the scenes for Bison athletics. To sit and listen to his stories is to receive a firsthand education about the last 40 years of NDSU, tempered with a certain amount of wisdom that’s familiar to those who have been privileged to listen – myself included.
How many people, today, devote the better part of an entire career building something, working for a purpose of something bigger than themselves. That’s what Simmers has done at NDSU, whether he’s conscious of it or not. He’s a builder. Steadily, day-after-day, year-after-year, he’s built relationships and developed friendships that have strengthened the athletic department, and in so doing, strengthened the university. What makes Simmers unique and so well-suited for this task – raising money for Bison athletics – wasn’t an ability to work long hours and put others at ease on a golf course, or around a happy-hour table. Although it probably helped, lots of us work long hours and can tell tales for hours on end.
It was, and is his Bison Pride. I’ve met a lot of Bison. Nobody and I mean nobody, understands what Bison Pride is, and what it means, better than Simms. From his days as a student-athlete, to, along with his better-half, his wife Susie, raising three boys, Chris, Chad and Ryan, who all played football for the Bison, Simmers knows firsthand that it can be a struggle. I think that’s what I appreciate most about him. It hasn’t been easy. Life isn’t all about winning conference or national championships. For guys like Simmers that have devoted a lifetime to NDSU, some days are a grind. It’s about life on the road, about hearing “no” more times than “yes, I’ll write that check.” There’s sacrifice, there are hardships, time spent away from family, injuries and overcoming defeat, and waking up the next day to do it all again.
We see and experience pinnacle moments like the championships in Frisco, NCAA Tournament runs, and visits from ESPN. The sweat equity, though, that went into growing NDSU to a point that it could make this seemingly impossible moon shot was only possible because of people like Simmers. As that old adage goes, money doesn’t grow on trees, especially the $6.75 million that Team Makers raised in 2018. To put that in perspective, in its history, Team Makers hit the $1 million mark for the first time in 2004. That is the Strength of the Herd, and Simmers, despite any titles, acclaim or hierarchy, has been at the forefront helping to lead the Herd for decades.
Few have served with his dedication. In the proud history of NDSU athletics, Simmers stands out, he’s a Bison’s Bison. I think that’s the ultimate compliment you can give someone in the Bison Family, and it’s something not to be tossed around lightly. Few understand and appreciate, and I mean truly appreciate, where NDSU has come from, and the mountains it has climbed, like Simms. From the then-daunting task of exponentially increasing the fundraising prowess of Team Makers virtually overnight when NDSU transitioned to Division I athletics, to the continued pressures to raise more money to fund everything from scholarships to practice facilities, Simmers showed up and delivered.
“Pat was critical for NDSU during and beyond the DI transition,” said Gene Taylor, the former NDSU Director of Athletics that led the Bison through the transition. “When we first discussed needing Team Makers to raise $1 million, he just went to work and found a way. Now look at what Team Makers raises annually under his leadership.”
We give credit, or at least should, to the trifecta of Joe Chapman, Gene Taylor and Craig Bohl for their grand visions and leadership of what NDSU could be. We give credit, and rightfully so, to the “Big Three’s” successors, Dean Bresciani, Matt Larsen and Chris Klieman, for continuing the legacy. These visions and their recent iterations would have remained just that, visions, but for the unseen and unheralded legwork of Bison like Simmers. Those visions took money, and lots of it, to become a reality. Simms was among those charged with finding it. And find it he did.
The list of key players, pioneers there at the beginning, at the genesis of the university-defining the decision to move to Division I, is shrinking as the years advance. It is important we pause to reflect on their contributions. Hall of Famers should be for the living, not the dusty archives. We cannot forget the work of these pioneers. After all, isn’t that what NDSU is – a living and breathing institution of pioneers that continue pushing the threshold, reaching for greater heights and doing what others say is impossible.
Simmers reach, while not as publicized as that of a starting quarterback, makes what the legendary quarterback does possible. His name might not grace the entryway of any buildings, but his work has built the intangible, the relationships that help make those new buildings possible. From the dim, VHS-lit corridors of the Bison Sports Arena, to the frosty belly of Dacotah Field, Simmers was there.
“Pat had a tremendous relationship with every level of donor that we had,” concluded Taylor. “There was no one that worked as hard, enjoyed his job, and loved NDSU more than Pat.” Pat Simmers may be “retiring” as executive director of Team Makers this May, but he’ll always be a Bison’s Bison. Job well done, Simms, job well done.
Team Makers Golf Outings Are Back!
With the weather warming, that can only mean one thing: it’s golf season! Per usual, NDSU Team Makers will be hosting a bevy of golf outings this summer. Take advantage of these outings when Team Makers comes to your home course.
Detroit Lakes Bison Golf Open
Detroit Country Club
24591 Co Highway 22, Detroit Lakes, MN
Hawley Bison Golf Open
Hawley Golf & Country Club
301 Highway 10, Hawley, MN
Devils Lake Bison Golf Open
Creel Bay Golf Course
515 Country Club Road, Devils Lake, ND
Wahpeton Bison Golf Open
Bois de Sioux Golf Course
1305 R J Hughes Drive, Wahpeton, ND
Lynn Dorn Women’s Golf Classic
Edgewood Golf Course
19 Golf Course Road, Fargo
Edgewood Bison Golf Open
Edgewood Golf Course
19 Golf Course Road, Fargo
Fargo Bison Golf Open
Fargo Country Club
509 26th Ave South, Fargo
To register for any and all of these summer golf outings, visit ndsuathleticfund.com/events