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Leon and Serena Simkins Jackson Memorial Foundation's Gala Humanitary Chairmen.

Leon and Serena Simkins have long been involved in the South Florida philanthropic community. Their generosity and caring for those in need have earned the charismatic and admired couple the gratitude and admiration of dozens of organizations. We are proud that Jackson Memorial Foundation is one of them, and we are prouder yet to have Serena and Leon serve as Humanitarian Chairmen for this year’s Gala. In 2001 the couple was Honorary Chairmen—and for the past 14 years, the couple have attended Gala every year and made it more beautiful by their presence. They are members of the Jackson Memorial/UM Banyan Society for Project Newborn, and they have been Golden Angels for seven years; they are on the Silver Seraphim level. The title Humanitarian Chairmen is perfect for Leon and Serena who show their concern for the welfare of others through their numerous philanthropic acts.

Blacktie Questions for Serena Simkins 

How did you determine which charitable organizations you would support?

Lee and I are big supporters of Diabetes and of course Jackson Health Center, especially the Holtz Children’s Hospital since Abel and Fana Holtz are our dear friends. I also support Epilepsy because one of our grandchildren has this disease; so I guess I would say I support things when they hit home and when they involve children.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking up in the morning with no worries, and no children or grandchildren crying. 

Is there a fond childhood memory you can share with us?

I didn’t have a pampered childhood. I walked 3 miles to school every day and can remember playing simple games like kick the can in an alleyway.

What word best describes your life right now?

Fantastic.  My life is a dream come true. 

What is something your parents taught you that you will never forget?

The value of a dollar.

Who is your hero?

My husband Lee.  He is a hard worker and very compassionate man. 

What is your idea of a perfect vacation?

Being alone with my husband somewhere with no phones.

What are your favorite leisure time activities or hobbies?

I am an avid bridge player. I play bridge on the computer and Lee and I play bridge every chance we get.  I am a prolific knitter. I knit all the time--everything from afgans to sweaters.

Is there a saying, motto, or “words to live by” that is your favorite?

Probably “Do Unto others…” but the problem is I couldn’t be mean to someone even if they were not nice to me. I also wish everyone what I wish for myself.   

What is your favorite restaurant?

My house in Connecticut where I spend my summers and get fresh lobsters, steamers and other delicacies from the ocean.  When I am in Bal Harbour I always eat the chicken francaise at Ragazzi in Surfside.

What will we find you doing on a Saturday night?

The best way to spend Saturday night is to cuddle up with Lee wearing our pajamas in a cozy spot in the house playing bridge, or watching TV.

What is your favorite room in your house?

I love my computer room because I can keep in touch with our children and grandchildren all over the country. And, of course, can play bridge online.

If your house was up for sale, and a potential buyer did a walk through, what would your home say about you?

She loves to cook.  My kitchen is amazing. I am a gourmet cook. And that she loves flowers. I am in the garden club in Connecticut and my garden is unbelievable.

What can make you laugh?

Lee makes me laugh.

What can make you cry?

When I hear that someone is sick or has died.

What is your greatest strength?


What is your greatest weakness?

Our children and grandchildren—and all babies.

What is a moment you will never forget?

Having my first child.

What is something you have learned from a pet?

Treat them with kindness and they will be good to you.

If you were going to be on a Space Shuttle for about a year, what one item would you have to take with you?

Lots of water.

What is your favorite snack?

Potato chips

What is your biggest fear?

That something bad will happen to a loved one.   

What do you like the most about yourself?

I have a big heart. 

What would you still like to learn how to do?

Learn to speak Spanish. 

What do you have to say to all the young women/men out there ready to take on the future?

Fulfill your fantasies and your dreams.

How do we get our young people more interested in charitable giving and community volunteering?

That’s a tough one. I think young people are too busy to get involved unless it hits them personally. Then they make the time.

How do you want to be remembered by future generations?

I lived my dream. I am a homemaker and I love it. I spend most of my time in a big truck carpooling our grandchildren and their friends back and forth to Hillel school.  My other car hardly ever leaves the garage. I do most everything in my homes by myself.

What would you like to see happen in our world, let’s say, five years from now?


What can we personally do to make things better for future generations?

We should be stricter and go back to the old fashioned way of doing things.  And help the young people understand the value of a dollar.



All parents wish for good health for their children and grandchildren. But when one of them needs medical treatment, it is good to know that Jackson Memorial Health Center is in our backyards.  That is exactly what happened to Leon and Serena Simkins. Between them, they are the proud parents and grandparents of eleven children and nineteen grandchildren with two more on the way. When one of their grandchildren was born with an epilepsy-related syndrome requiring specialized medical care, Lee & Serena realized that families in similar situations could find information and care at Holtz Children’s Hospital. 

Leon and Serena Simkins have been longtime supporters of The Holtz Children’s Hospital because Abel and Fana are good friends and they know how devoted the Holtz family is to helping sick children get well and live quality lives.

Leon is a graduate of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Chairman and President of Simkins Industries, Inc., a folding carton and glassine paper manufacturing company operating in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.  Serena is originally from Bloomfield, Michigan.  She moved to South Florida in 1991.  Lee and Serena were married in January 1998. 

Lee is a member of the Board of Governors, a Distinguished Humanitarian of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (DRIF), was previous chairman of its Love & Hope Ball and the DRI named their Research Tower after him.  He is also a member of the Ibis Society of the University of Miami and a Founder of Mt. Sinai Medical Center. 

Through the Leon J. Simkins Charitable Foundation, Lee and Serena have actively participated in funding medical research and improving the lives of sick and developmentally disabled children in our community. 

Lee and Serena continue to be generous supporters of the Diabetes Research Institute and are members of the Leadership Council.  They are members of both the Jackson Memorial /UM Banyan Society for Project Newborn and the JM Foundation’s Golden Angels at the Silver Seraphim level.