Reflections of Past Grand Master James A. Zimmerman

Past Grand Master
James A. Zimmerman
Oct. 2, 1939 – Sept. 23, 2020

By Past Grand Master Craig S. Campbell

James Allen Zimmerman, formerly of Shawano, Wisconsin, passed away at his home in Rogers, Arkansas on Sept. 23, 2020. He was born to Clarence and Iola (Petit) Zimmerman on Oct. 2, 1939 in Elgin Illinois. Jim was baptized and confirmed at Good Shephard Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois. He graduated from Elgin High School in 1957 after which he served our country from 1959-1961 in the U.S. Army Signal Corps stationed in France. Upon returning from his service he married his wife of 59 years, Carna-Jean Becker on Sept. 30, 1961. Jim worked as a pressman for a printing company in North-brook, Illinois for many years prior to moving to Shawano, Wisconsin in 1972. In 1973 Jim and Carna purchased the Shawano Journal Co. which later became Shawano Printing Co., Inc. which they continued to operate until 1993 when they sold the business to their son Greg and his wife Jodi. He was a member of Shawano Lodge No. 170 and served as Master in 1983. He went on to become Grand Master of Masons in Wisconsin in 1992. Jim was a member of all Scottish and York Rite Bodies, Beja Shrine in Green Bay,

Shawano Shrine Club, past patron of Shawano Chapter #167 order of Eastern Star. He served on the Shawano United Way Committee and was a member of Zion Lutheran Church of Shawano where he served on var-ious committees before moving to Rogers, Arkansas where he was currently a member of Peace Lutheran Church. Jim enjoyed serving the many organizations and committees he was involved in, hunting, wood-working and loved being outdoors puttering around in the yard. It was this very yard work that led to Jim becoming interested in joining the Masons. On a bright summer day in 1973, Jim was in the back yard doing some edging and sprucing up.

The Zimmerman back yard abutted the Campbell back yard, with only a gravel alley separating them. We had a wooden fence that ran parallel to the alley and it seemed like a never-ending chore to trim the grass around the fence posts and along the alley edge. That’s where I was that morning when my Dad leaned over the fence and greeted his new neighbor. Jim walked over, leaned on the fence, and the conversation en-sued. My dad, Ron Campbell, asked Jim how things were going and how well he was getting settled in with the new business? I recall Jim lamenting to my dad that he had been approached by every civic group in town, each one imploring him to join their organization, asserting that it would be great for his business! My dad asked him if he ever considered joining the Masons? Of course, you can guess what the next question was. Jim asked, “What will it do for my business?” My dad answered, “It’s not going to do anything for your business, that’s not what it’s for.

The Masons focus on the individual. Put simply, it makes a good man better.” Jim replied, “That’s the organization I want to belong to.” And the rest, they say, is history. Jim not only became a Mason, joining Shawano Lodge in 1973, but eventually served as Master in 1983, and then Grand Master in 1992. Jim’s leadership in the fraternity was profound. He was one of the four men who re-crafted the posting examinations under the then-called Shawano Experiment, which later became Wisconsin Program. This method of posting, providing the rich history and symbolism along with the usual catechism was truly revolutionary, being adopted by many other states along with Wisconsin within just a few short years. As Grand Master, Jim showed a prescience enjoyed by few Grand Masters. It is a trait of good leadership that great leaders will surround themselves with great people. In his term as Grand Master, he appointed three freshman who would later go on to become Grand Masters themselves, Jim Olson, Mike DeWolf, and Craig Campbell. The combined impact on our Grand Lodge by these three men cannot be overstated – with Jim Olson chairing our Jurisprudence Committee for nearly a dozen years, and Mike DeWolf serving as Grand Secretary for even longer! It is a real testament to Jim’s recognition of talent that Past Grand Master James A. Zimmerman Oct. 2, 1939 – Sept. 23, 2020 he was able to provide so much to this fraternity.

I had a chance to remind him of this during my installation as Grand Master in 2009. Upon being elected to the position of Deputy Grand Master, I immediately began assembling my in-stalling team. Of course, I was very pleased and blessed to have Jim Olson be my Installing Grand Master, continuing the long-running tradition of being installed by the Grand Master who appointed you to the progressive line. Of course, I ran to Jim Zimmerman to be my Installing Marshal. And he turned me down! It had been 15 years since he had been Grand Master, and he claimed he didn’t know any of the new guys. He eventually relented and reluctantly accepted, performing magnificently for the ceremony. And in a private moment following completion of the installation, he pulled me aside and thanked me for “making” him do it, as he really enjoyed himself. But perhaps the greatest contribution of Grand Master Zimmerman has just recently transpired, 27 years after he served. During his term in 1992, the Madison Masonic Center was in serious financial trouble. Jim Zimmerman made it his personal mission to save that building and see to it that it stayed in the fraternity. He put on thousands of miles during his term as Grand Master commuting back and forth to Madison, meeting with organizations, leaders, businesses, and Masons to salvage the situation. He made a hallmark edict, allowing them a “blanket” dispensation to allow alcohol to be served in the lodge.

This allowed them to rent the facility for numerous wedding receptions and other gatherings, bringing in much needed revenue. In addition, he assisted in securing a buyer for the adjacent parking facility, nearly eliminating the mortgage debt on that structure. Jim’s efforts and success in securing the stability of that facility was recognized in 2003 by Grand Master Jim Olson who presented Jim the Grand Master’s Meritorious Service Award, an award that he said was his proudest achievement in his Masonic career. And, of course, in 2019, we write the footnote to that chapter, with the Madison Masonic Center facility being deeded to the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. It has been the location of our Annual Communications for 15 consecutive years, and may become the future home of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. Thank you Jim Zimmerman, may you rest in peace.