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Del and Nancy Zimmerman

They came from different places. Del grew up in Fond du Lac. Nancy is from a small town in Iowa. No covered bridge in Madison County was handy to tether the two, but separate careers in healthcare provided the connection that still continues to fuel two lifetimes … with three kids and two grandchildren to sweeten the way.

Del and Nancy Zimmerman have served the Learning in Retirement organization since its inception five years ago. Our curriculum committee blessed to have them still active as coordinators, sleuthing out new ethnic restaurants to lunch at, exploring new symphony and opera venues and finding presenters to speak on local and state history. Nancy says, “I really like the hearty ethnic lunches. Doesn’t eating well at midday mean I don’t always have to make supper? “Here’s an apple, Del!” Del Zimmerman’s interest in music, from jazz to opera, has kept him feeding our spring and fall menu of classes with many theatre and music based opportunities. Coupled with the support of Gloria Link’s and Don Burdick’s theatre and music sessions, this has become a large component of our overall offerings.

Del spent four years (1952-’56) in the US Navy with the Military Sea Transport Service, and attended UW Oshkosh for two years in the early sixties before earning his medical degree at UW Madison in 1965. He went into private practice in Neenah until the strain of solo work with little coverage, coupled with the birth of their third child, prompted him to leave the practice. After getting up to speed in the then emerging field of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado, he accepted a position as emergency medicine physician at St. Elizabeth’s in Appleton. He also did a stint at Winnebago Mental Health Institute under Dr. Darold Treffert at the geriatric hospital there. A career opportunity took the family to Springfield, Illinois for the next 18 years. In 1994 they returned to Neenah.

“What I liked most about my nursing work” Nancy says, “was being in a position to be empathetic to people who were so vulnerable as patients, and helping them to get back on track. My early work in pediatrics was rewarding, but later as an emergency room RN an opportunity came my way that would change my life forever. It happened at Hennepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis. Even now I can see him come barreling through those swinging ER doors…just like on TV… this tall, intense, nice looking 30 something Dr. Zimmerman, finishing his last year of training.” They obviously found the right prescription to cure “the singles.”

Nancy and Del had different reasons for joining LIR. Coming off a pediatrics-to geriatrics career in nursing, with an intervening 16-year span to raise three children, she says “I had just so little time in college to enjoy the humanities. My classes were chiefly in the sciences. Approaching retirement I went for this organization because it would let me do some of the things I didn’t have time for earlier. Del is with LIR mainly because Nancy urged him to join her at one of the early symphony rehearsal sessions. Del says, “I went, and was so entertained being there and seeing the interaction between conductor and orchestra, that I was hooked on this wonderful opportunity Nancy had found. I was working long hours at that time. It was like an oasis for me.” As with Nancy’s career, his career siphoned off a lot of hours and he could not pursue his avocational interests. With retirement in sight, LIR seemed the right place to be. Many of the classes, once he read the listing in earnest, appealed to him.

Del’s reading interests lean toward state and local histories, and anything on symphony, opera and jazz. Nancy enjoys either biographies or good fiction. They will often take the Greyhound bus to Chicago to attend theatre, the latest trip to a Phillip Glass and Mary Zimmerman production of the opera Galileo Galilei at the Goodman Theatre.

In counseling someone on the cusp of retiring, Del agrees with Nancy that this phase should be treated like any other phase of your life that will require a big adjustment. Such as a new job, a move, a child … anything that is going to appreciably change your life and require mental effort to deal with this change. Nancy adds,” … flexibility is important, especially for a woman. Having your husband home, now, in your territory, especially if he has been a busy person outside the home, can be an adjustment. Your routine is somewhat upset. Altered. Which is not a bad thing. But you might need to ask yourself ‘how important is it that I continue to do what I thought I always had to do?’ You might even be offered criticism about things you never had to worry about. Like leaving the vacuum cleaner out because you might use it later. It’s not about him being underfoot. It’s about being flexible and using your time differently. ”

They agreed that while you gain a lot entering the retirement years, you can lose a great deal of your identity. There is a perceived slippage in one’s value. With tongue-in-cheek Nancy says, “I think it’s harder for a man. Women …well, we always know who we are!” Del thinks that saying “no” once in a while is a good move. And not feeling obligated to do all that people think you can with all this extra time. Keeping your mind active and cultivated is a must. A nap now and then is an ok indulgence. Especially after an ethnic cuisine lunch.

Del finds previous employment and academic background of little consequence among our members. From GED to Ph.D. we all seem to fit. “LIR is a great equalizer,” he says. “People care more about what’s ahead than where you came from. A common interest in lifelong learning transcends it all.”

The Zimmermans suggest our membership try to think more about what they can do for LIR, the university and the students on campus. Our organization offers us a lot, and quite reasonably. We have many volunteers in positions of importance who have kept us entertained nicely for five years. Nancy remembers, “several times in the Reeve Union cafeteria students have said, ‘we see you trudging through snow, putting up with difficult parking, to come to classes when you guys don’t have to anymore … like you’re thirsting for something!’ Students living away from home see us on campus in a quasi-parental way. Our role modeling, though not expressly intended, is there.

It is Del and Nancy’s sense that our presence is a valuable commodity on campus. Being ambassadors of lifelong learning has not gone unnoticed.