Billy Kimmons ’99
Architect + Principal, Hood-Rich Architecture
“Well I was born in a small town…”
Those words immortalized by John Mellencamp haunted me as I prepared to pack my bags to leave the small town I had grown to love. It was the summer before my final year in high school when I first stepped foot on Drury’s campus. I could watch an episode of Seinfeld in the same time it took to get to Drury from my hometown, and I felt like I was in a new world. My love for architecture began in the eighth grade, so, naturally, I signed up for classes the first chance I got. I enrolled in a summer design studio with Professor Jay Garrott. It was in that studio that I recall hearing Professor Garrott offer me some challenging advice: “You need to get out of Bolivar,” he said.
I was offended by those comments at the time, but I eventually grew to appreciate his advice. It would not be the last time he challenged me to think beyond my immediate surroundings.
I entered college eager to conquer the world but very ill-prepared to accomplish the task. Thankfully, Drury was ready for me. My time at Drury was somewhat different for me than for my peers at the Hammons School of Architecture; my first semester, I spent more time on the north side of campus than I did in “the building.” This was largely because of the credits I earned with that summer studio course. I soon found myself immersed in the life and government of the rest of campus.
By the time I left Drury, which was five and a half years later, I had degrees in architecture and mathematics and had completed the honors program. I had served on student senate all five years, once as student body vice president and twice as senior class president. I was an active member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, and I worked part-time while keeping up with everything else. I guess you could say that I learned to try anything.
It was in these other facets of Drury life where I formed lasting memories. I remember writing paper after paper for Dr. Browning’s class wondering if I would ever need to write like this again. I recall standing in front of my speech class, nervously delivering my ramblings, wondering if I had chosen the right elective course. I remember the late night trips to Kinko’s, not for a design project, but to prepare for events on campus like Festival of Trees and other senate initiatives. Before I knew it, I had finished my time at Drury with a confidence and willingness to try anything.
That is the philosophy I took with me into my profession. I reached for every opportunity put in front of me and was always prepared to learn something new. I worked in Springfield, Missouri and Albuquerque, New Mexico before finally settling down in Springfield. In 2008 I felt like I was ready to start my own firm. Wishing I had taken a business class, I quickly realized that you never stop learning. It was a defining moment, and I felt grateful for my education at Drury. I didn’t have to know how to do everything because I had been taught to figure it out.
My professional life has been a lot like my time at Drury in that I have served on numerous committees and boards. One such relationship ultimately led to writing a bimonthly column for the opinions page of The Springfield News-Leader. I did that for three and a half years before taking a break, and I often wondered if my professors back at Drury ever realized the impact they had on my life. Drury prepared me even for this.
I had spent all this time soaking up information, and I never considered that I had a greater responsibility to share what I had learned. I was honored then, when Drury invited me to teach a design studio as an adjunct professor. While I had never intended to enter academia, I have taken great pride in contributing to the educational system I have grown to cherish. As I mentor a younger generation of architects, I tell them not to waste opportunities. Through its liberal arts education, Drury pushed me beyond my comfort zone, a value I never anticipated.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to merge my business with Hood-Rich Architecture where I am now a principal architect. It is fulfilling to work with a team of talented individuals, many of whom are also Drury graduates. Together we can do more than this small town boy ever could do alone. And while I no longer intend to conquer the world, I believe it is my job to help make it better. Thanks to Drury, that is something I am not afraid to try.