The OTHER ‘George Zimmerman’…

Grateful Blog: Day 83: His name is ALL over the news. ‘George Zimmerman’. If you’ve been out of the country or out in a cabin inMontanawith no electricity or a newspaper he’s the guy who shot a young black teenager inFloridathe other day. The teenager, Trayvon Martin was apparently wearing a ‘hoodie’ and in some bizarre act of vigilantism, some guy named George Zimmerman shot and killed him. The whole thing is a tragedy from top to bottom. I don’t know all (or even most) of the facts but I do know that when one person shoots another it carries the label ‘tragedy’ for me.

But this isn’t about that. It’s about , George Zimmerman this guy inFloridathat I knew. I met George in college. We knew him as ‘Mr. Z’. He taught music classes on campus at theUniversityofDayton. I heard his classes were easy, fun, and would fulfill a certain # of credit hours towards graduation. That sounded more than good enough to me. When I showed up the first day I was unprepared for the man with the rolling accent, the deep laugh, the silver handlebar mustache, and the love for music. But there I was, 20 years old, trapped in a class called ‘Popular American Song’. I was thinking Springsteen or the Beatles, we got Debussy and Copland.

After a short week or so I realized that I started to actually like the class. Debussy did this huge electronic ‘noise’ piece for the World’s Fair in Belgiumin a theater that was designed to emulate the 9 chambers of a cow’s stomach. I mean who in their right mind takes on THAT?? George commented that Debussy famously said ‘Music is the space between the notes’ which is of course true to the 9th power. This old musical cat, George Zimmerman, ‘Mr. Z.’ was cool.

Then one day George, as was his custom, invited a bunch of us from his class to dinner, at his house in the suburbs ofDayton,Ohio. Mr. Z. served 5 or 6 of us, damn near starving college kids, this ridiculous gourmet meal. He LOVED to cook. Dessert was this crazy orange peel concoction with caramelized sugar, I’ll never forget it. Amazing! Then he showed us his collection of instruments, mostly pianos since that’s what he played including some serious 1800’s instruments. I think we were all a little bit intimidated and wary since George was so sweet and giving, and then there was his Christmas tree, that he still had up in April. Well, he was eccentric a little bit…

Later, I found out new things about George. He was nearing retirement and would soon be moving from his beloved Dayton to Naples, Florida. It was a big move. But I also found out that George was a respected lecturer and entertainer. He had a TV show that he created and hosted called ‘Passport to Music’ and ‘By George’, which aired in Dayton from 1968-1975. He told me he had Ella Fitzgerald on his show once. Met her. Had her sing on his show. Damn. THE Ella Fitzgerald??? Wow. He was formerly an elementary vocal teacher and Supervisor of Music for Dayton Public Schools. He published a collection of children’s songs, entitled ‘Seasons in Song’. And he wrote books???! Like ‘Everything Makes Me Think of Food’ that had the review ‘this may be one of the few cookbooks as worthy of the armchair as the kitchen counter.’

So George Zimmerman, ‘Mr. Z. as we affectionately called him, was certainly more about food and music than violence. Yet hearing his name, said over and over (and over) this week in conjunction with ‘Florida’ brought him back to memory like the smell of bread brings back the memory of a bakery when you were young. I spent 20 minutes trying to find Mr. Z online. No luck. I found his cookbook though.

But then I remembered that I’d tried before with the same lack of luck. He’d be in his 80’s now, maybe older. I don’t know. But Mr. Z. was the first guy in the Universe to teach me abut music and food and Christmas trees and the sheer fact that what’s important may lie entirely BETWEEN the notes and not the notes themselves. I TREASURE that. I’m more than Grateful for it. This ‘George Zimmerman’ imposter inFloridais NOT the ‘Mr. Z.’ I knew. Nope, that story is a tragedy. The George Zimmerman’ I knew was a passionate and compassionate man, a lover of food, music and the company of friends. It’s been too long since I thought about Mr. Z. and I hope to God he’s still hanging in there or least has gone to his reward with Ella…

In any case, I’m Grateful all that he taught and inspired. I may not have been listening then, but I AM now…Mr. Z is still teaching, and there’s no tragedy in that…

7 thoughts on “The OTHER ‘George Zimmerman’…

  1. Sadly, George Zimmerman passed away on Jan 1st 2014. He was also my musical mentor in Dayton at Eastmont grade school. I will miss him. And, I’m still playing music and entertaining people because of his mentoring.

  2. Does anyone know how I might be able to purchase a copy of his book? I have a wonderful memory of visiting his home also! The link on the message above did not work.

  3. Dan,

    I just found your blog and post. Indeed, Mr. Zimmerman (age 91) is still in the Dayton area, living at Bethany Village, a retirement community in Centerville. Just last April, he returned to the University of Dayton campus to visit the Department of Music. There is a very nice article that can be found on the UD website, entitled, “Is that My Drum?” Mr. Z’s sense of humor, and his love of learning, music, and food, all remain! I have recently shared a copy of your blog with him — thank you so much for sharing these wonderful memories of your former professor. — Dr. Linda J. Snyder (retired UD professor and former chair of the UD music department)

  4. Did you ever find out if George is still with us? I knew George from my UD days. Wonderful man. I lost touch when he retired to Florida.

    • Doug, I never did hear back if George was still with us. I’ve never had any luck locating him but I’ve also never heard that he wasn’t with us so I still don’t know. He was/is a wonderufl man. Gracious. Loved music. Loved his students. Had Ella Fitzgerald on HIS TV show…whoa!

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