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Engineer siblings’ scholarship honors parents

Portrait of Paul and Norma Sims

Paul and Norma Sims’ children, Mike, Keith and Paula — all engineers, endowed a scholarship in honor of the parents. Paul was a 1953 mechanical engineering alumnus.

Paul and Norma Sims’ children agree that their parents placed more value on experiences and spending time together than they did material goods. The siblings’ fondness for their parents spilled out as they talked about them just like, as son Keith said, their engineer father’s humility and integrity spilled out into their lives.

Paul, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MU in 1953, died in 2001, and his children, Mike, Keith, Paula and Larry Sims, recently endowed an MU College of Engineering scholarship in their parents’ honor. The Sims Engineering Scholarship will support engineering students with financial need.

Before retiring in 1993, Paul spent most of his career at General Electric in Evendale, Ohio, and Lynn, Mass., eventually rising to the position of general manager for military divisions within the company.

Paul hailed from Pollock, Mo., and attended a one-room school in Hartsburg before his family moved to Columbia.

“His first job was trapping fur-bearing animals at age 8 and his second, at age 12, was driving a bread truck,” said Mike.

Paul attended both Jefferson Junior High and Hickman High School before enrolling in MU through the Air Force ROTC program. While attending Hickman High School, he met Norma Jean Branham, an Independence, Mo., transplant, and the two were married in 1952. After Paul graduated from MU, the couple moved to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., where Paul, a second lieutenant, attended communications school. He was eventually assigned to the Wethersfield Royal Air Force base where he and Norma lived until his tour of duty was completed.

Calling their parents an incredible team, the siblings said their mother and father provided not just a great home environment, but also reached out generously into the communities where they lived.

Three of Paul and Norma’s children became engineers: Mike, a mechanical engineer, works for GE Aviation as general manager; Keith, a computer engineer, works for Barnes Group, Inc., as global business systems manager; and Paula, an industrial manufacturing engineer, works as a consultant and a professor at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School.

“Neither of my folks encouraged me to become an engineer,” said Paula. “They encouraged me to follow my heart. My parents both valued education and encouraged us to reach our potential.”

The idea to set up the Sims scholarship at MU seemed like a natural and befitting way for the sibling to pay homage to their parents.

“We talked about doing this a couple of years ago, and decided it was the right time while mom can still appreciate it,” said Mike.

Norma is living in Chapel Hill, N.C.

In addition to the initial funds the Sims family has contributed toward the scholarship, including a one-to-one match gift by the GE Foundation Corporate Matching Gifts Program, the family expects the endowment will grow through continued giving by friends and family.

“Dad had a great work ethic and such perseverance,” said Keith. “He was a role model for all of us. He had great humility and an incredible sense of integrity. That’s what I remember. It’s a great legacy.”