This week many will celebrate our nation’s independence from Britain on July 4, but for a Jacksonville couple, this celebration goes on 365 days a year.
Richard and Regina Simmons own and live in a patriotically-themed house in rural Cherokee County that many call The Patriotic House.
The 96-foot-long flag painted on the front of the house is usually the first thing passersby see. An 8-foot-by-16-foot American flag is mounted on the north side of the home and most of the back wall of the house is covered with a painting of an enormous Texas flag, complete with a 4-foot star of 10-gauge metal. The stars on the flag design on the front wall are also of metal and constructed by Marc Bolton, of Jacksonville.
The Simmonses said it took painting contractor Shaun McAnally 12 days and 36 gallons of paint to complete the patriotic-themed paint job.
Asked why they chose to paint their house in such an overwhelming patriotic display, they said, “We just wanted to show how proud we are of our sons (two whom have served in the military), our country, and how much we love America.”
The Patriotic House started as a modest, two-story frame home that Simmons, a carpenter by trade, built. In the house, the couple raised five sons (one adopted). When only their youngest son was still at home, they started fostering children.
Mrs. Simmons recalled telling her husband, “I think we need a bigger living room.”
When her husband asked how big of a room she had in mind, she replied, “How big a living room can you build me?”
Simmons laughed as they told the story.
“We don’t do anything halfway, he said. … “ “There is no moderation. We just go all out.”
The Simmonses have fostered more than 40 children over the past 11 years and are passionate about being foster parents. Mrs. Simmons’ face shines as she speaks about her kids.
“I still keep in touch with most of them. … Their families invite us to birthday parties and special occasions,” she said. “I enjoy seeing them happy.”
There always is a lot of activity going on inside The Patriotic House.
“Some days I’m so tired I can hardly go,” Mrs. Simmons said. “But I love it and I hope we can do this for a very long time.”
Mrs. Simmons spends hours creating a keepsake scrapbook for each child to take with them when they leave for their permanent home.
“I work on them while they are at school or other functions, or at night after they are in bed,” she said.
One entire room in their home is dedicated to scrapbooking.
“I take pictures of everything,” she said, as she pointed to piles of paper and pictures that will end up in her scrapbooks.
They work hard to make their foster children feel they are part of the family. In the television room, the kids can put their handprints on the wall with colorful paint, and then sign and date them.
“I want them to feel like this is their home for however long they are here,” Mrs. Simmons said.
The Simmonses credit McAnally with transforming their home into a red, white and blue head-turner.
McAnally said he has suffered from dyslexia his entire life.
“It was hard in school, but I finished,” he said.
In high school he was in a program that allowed him to work half a day with his father, a house painter. McAnally decided that painting would be his career, too.
“I learned everything I know from Dad,” he said. “He put me to work scraping, cleaning and teaching me how to do the prep work correctly … getting everything just right. I was as slow as Christmas, but Dad was patient with me and as time went on I got faster and faster.”
He said that because of his severe dyslexia. writing bills and bids for customers is still difficult.
“I have trouble with spelling, and since I work alone, I have to do the written part, too,” McAnally said. “I have a computer program ... that helps me. I speak into it and it writes the bid out for me. It doesn’t understand every word, but it gets most of it.”
The demands of painting huge flag designs on the Simmons home presented challenges.
“The Simmons job was one of the hardest jobs I’ve done because it required so much planning and exact measuring. I’ve never had a job where I felt like I had to get it just right or I wasn’t a patriotic person,” McAnally said, grinning.
Asked if he would ever take on another job like the Simmons house, McAnally said, “It was a challenge, but I would be up for another one. I will pretty much tackle anything.”