Simmons Eye Care

When considering the family tree that has grown from the more than six decades of Simmons Family Eye Care, you must understand those roots run very, very deep.

“It’s incredibly special to be part of this multi-generational practice,” said Simmons Eye Care partner, Rusty Simmons. “My dad started the practice. I joined in 1983, and my brother, Creighton, came on in 1991. We were so fortunate growing up to watch dad build the practice. He was always such an engaging people person. Everyone just loved him.”

Dr. Bill Simmons first established his Benton clinic in July of 1962. He gained renown as an optometrist with a passion for providing quality eye care while also possessing an outstanding love and spirit of service to others. “It was his real gift, always so kind to those around him. If it hadn’t been the field of optometry, he would have found something that would’ve provided him the opportunity to interact with and serve people daily. There were many times we had to reschedule a patient for a second appointment because the entire exam time had been spent discussing everything except their eye issue, or we waited at a restaurant while he greeted every table and gave out hugs. He just really cared for—and about—his patients and their families.”

Dr. Simmons passed away earlier this year in January, at the age of 91. He was a native Arkansan, a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, and an Air Force veteran. 

“We had our spring Arkansas Optometric Association meeting just a few weeks ago. It was incredible how many of my peers came by to offer their condolences on my father’s passing or to tell me how much he meant to them, professionally and personally,” Rusty said. “He had served on many committees with so many in our profession, which he felt very passionate about, and was involved in the advancement of our profession. Creighton and I have followed his lead and have served in many ways in support of optometry.” 

Dr. Rusty Simmons joined his father shortly after graduating from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. He attended Ouachita Baptist University and met his wife, Karol, at OBU, just like his dad and mom had.

At that time, Karol was also working as a medical professional in Little Rock. Unbeknownst to her, though, she’d soon be joining the family business, too. “My mother-in-law, who was the office manager, took a leave of absence, and (Dr. Bill Simmons) asked if I could come in temporarily to help with the office. I’ve been here ever since,” said Karol.

Less than a decade later, Rusty’s younger brother Creighton joined the practice, and during the next several years, the family opened additional locations in Little Rock and in Hot Springs. Along with those expansions, the Simmons family and their relatives grew from being “related family” to full-blown “work family.”

“Like caring for people, family was so important to my father-in-law,” said Karol. “He saw to it that the spirit of family would extend to everyone who works here. It was a big part of his legacy that he passed down to my husband. He taught me many life lessons during our years of working together and one of his favorites that he told me often—and we’ve all heard it many times—is that ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’ but he really lived his life that way.” 

So, what’s it like to spend almost every minute of the day with your partner? “[Rusty] and I have our desks pushed together and are together all day,” she said. “People think it’s funny that we’re here all day, then go home at night. That’s a lot, but you have to let work be work and life be life, though sometimes it’s definitely not easy.”

Including Rusty, Creighton, and Karol, the Simmons’ and their extended family make up six of the 36 employees and 6 doctors of the three separate practices. And as Rusty describes it, there doesn’t appear to be any sign of slowdown in family members’ coming on board anytime soon. “My niece, Jennifer Zierlein, and her husband, Steele, joined us a few years ago and our middle son, Will, works as a Licensed Optician in our Benton location.”

“Creighton’s oldest son, Collin, will see his first patients on July 10th,” Rusty added. “Also, my brother’s youngest son, Cain, has expressed interest in entering the practice, so he’s on the pre-optometry track at the University of Arkansas. It would be great to see him, maybe in seven years or so, working in the practice and continuing that legacy.”

While technological advancements in the field of eye care and treatment are growing by leaps and bounds today, Rusty points out that just a few decades ago, optometry proved to be a heavily restricted field.

“Through the early to mid-60’s, optometrists weren’t allowed to dilate pupils to help see inside someone’s eye, nor could they prescribe medications of any kind. The job was basically to see if contacts or glasses could help a patient’s vision.

“Today, we are much more involved in the medical management of patient health,” he added. “We use dilating drops and prescribe medications. We can treat glaucoma, manage diabetes and macular degeneration, and use lasers to treat certain conditions.”

Rusty says, while treatment methods are clearly improving, technology in the way of streaming video could ultimately be what sends optometry and ophthalmology into a brave new world.

“The technology surrounding telehealth and treating patients remotely is growing so fast,” he said. “There could soon be a day when we log on with the patient and they are in another town, state, or country while attending a comprehensive eye exam.

“It’s so exciting to think we could be providing health and eye care to patients in ways we would have never imagined twenty to twenty-five years ago,” he added. “That’s now at our doorstep, along with many fantastic opportunities. The future is going to be exciting.”