JOE SIMMONS AND SANDRA BUNDY SIMMONS. JOE SIMMONS DIED, MAY 13.
Although Joseph Simmons knew that the cancer was spreading and his condition was worsening, he still made it one last time to Dana’s Bakery to show his beloved wife of more than a decade, Sandra Bundy-Simmons, how to make the danishes and other sweet staples that Homewood residents and others had come to love for more than 40 years.
“He wanted the bakery to stay open,” Bundy-Simmons told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, June 7. “On his dying bed he was showing me how to do the cookies. While he was in the bed, he was showing me how to cook them, how to cut them.”
Joseph “Joe” Simmons, himself a community staple, along with the bakery he named after his daughter, Dana, in 1979, passed away on May 13 in his late 70s from cancer.
In a story written by Bonnie Pfister for the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation’s “American Heroes: The Homewood Project,” she described how Simmons’ workday would start around 1:30 a.m., “and he said he’s long since become accustomed to getting by on about four hours of sleep each night. For a time, the business weighted on him, literally: he ballooned to 330 pounds. He turned to Weight Watchers, shed more than 100 pounds, and was such a model participant that the company hired him. For several years—while continuing to run the bakery—he’d travel to meetings with a scale, conducting weekly weigh-ins and encouraging participants to take care of themselves and reach their goals.”
The article discussed how, after his days at McKeesport High School, Simmons was hired as a dishwasher for Vienna Bakery Co. He eventually worked at G&K Bakery in West Mifflin, “purchasing sweets there that he would take to a Hill District location for resale.”
Simmons figured he could open his own location, and he did, right at 720 N. Homewood Ave., in 1979.
“He was just a good guy. Everybody loved him,” Bundy-Simmons told the Courier of Joe Simmons. “If I posted something on Facebook about Joe, I would always get 150 likes. But if I posted about myself, I would get three,” she said, with a smile. “That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Bundy-Simmons added: “If somebody did something foul to him, he would speak to you the next day. Joe always forgave people, no matter what.”
Residents around Homewood loved the donuts at Dana’s Bakery. But they also would come for the Italian Ice, a nice cool off on those 90-degree days.
Bundy-Simmons said Joe Simmons was father to six children, and a grandfather to 13. Dana’s Bakery was truly a family-run business, with either Simmons, Bundy-Simmons or her brother primarily working behind the counter. Sometimes, other family members would step in.
JOE SIMMONS talked with students in Homewood about the importance of being an entrepreneur and giving back to one’s community.
Bundy-Simmons described how much Joe Simmons loved Homewood. “He would never leave Homewood,” she said. “They wanted to give him a place at the end of Kelly Street, but he always wanted to be on Homewood Avenue. He turned it down.”
Joe Simmons loved to travel up to Erie and go to the beach with his family. He liked the casino. He liked bike-riding. He loved hunting with his son, Brandon.
Simmons was a deacon at Destiny International Ministries. His funeral was held at Bible Center Church, right across the street from Dana’s Bakery.
Bundy-Simmons said that Dana’s Bakery will, indeed, stay open.
“He gave me the recipes before he passed away,” she said. “The brownies, the cupcakes…”
“He was just really loved. Everybody loved Joe.”