Forrest Elbert Zimmerman:
Cause of Death: pneumonia
Buried: cremation-ashes UW Arboretum
Forrest Elbert Zimmerman
1909 Tacoma Washington - 1989 New Glarus Wisconsin
February 18, 2004
Today I am writing to you about someone I knew very well...my Daddy!
Forrest Elbert Zimmerman was born on 28 December 1909 in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington. He was the one and only child of George Edward Zimmerman and his wife, Wilhemina Julia Wintermantel, called Minnie. George and Minnie were both from immigrant German families, so Forrest grew up speaking both German and English. His mother had taught school before her marriage and was an accomplished pianist. She tried to interest Forrest in the piano, but it didn't take. George was a very capable and clever young man who, over the years, supported his family in numerous different ways, including farmer, ship builder, and hardware store merchant. He shared with Forrest an interest in woodworking and in figuring out what makes things go.
I have a small Baby Book that his mother kept. In it is a lock of his surprisingly blonde hair, and a list of baby gifts. On the list is this entry, "Ring from Mrs. J. Ward." I have that ring. I also have a number of photographs of my dad as a small child. In them he has long curly hair and is wearing dresses! I was quite alarmed when I first saw these photos. Since then, however, I have learned it was the style at that time to dress little boys like that until they were about three years old.
Forrest's family moved around quite a bit when he was small. I have a Valentine's Day postcard addressed to Forrest in Thornton, Washington dated 1914. Thornton is a small town near the Washington/Idaho border and about 40 miles south of Spokane. I have no idea what the family was doing there. The next item I have is Dad's third grade report card from Astoria, Oregon. Astoria is right on the Columbia River very near its mouth where it meets the Pacific Ocean. According to his report card he was "Excellent" in reading and spelling and behavior and "Good" in everything else. We know a little bit more about the time in Astoria because of a letter written by Forrest to his granddaughter Dawne in 1974.
Grandma is writing to you about when she was a little girl on a farm. I grew up in small towns so my life was different.
When I was nine years old your great grandmother and great grandfather and I lived in Astoria Oregon. This was during World War I and they were building wooden ships at Astoria. My father worked at the shipyard. When we first went to Astoria we couldn't find any house to rent or buy so my father bought a lot and built a house on it. He built a real simple house, and got a carpenter friend to help him. I remember when we first moved into the house there were no inside partitions.
The year I was eight we had an influenza epidemic that killed lots and lots of people. I remember every week when we went to school we would see another empty desk. Most of the time the kids got well and came back but not always. Several of my classmates died that winter.
My how it rained there and how the wind blew! I remember one time I started out for school wearing a raincoat, a rain hat, and rubbers. I got just a short distance from the house when the wind caught my hat and blew it off. Every time I tried to pick it up the wind caught it again just as I was about to pick it up.
Astoria is very hilly and our house was on the side of a hill, with the back of the house on dirt and the front of the house on stilts. We kept our wood under the front of the house. We had a wood burning stove that your great grandmother cooked on and that we used to heat the house.
The country around Astoria is a lot like that in the rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula that we visited, lots of trees, brush, moss, and grass. During the heavy rains the water would soak into the ground at the top of the hill and sometimes we would find the nicest spring bubbling out of the ground at the bottom of the hill. Other places you would see the water just flowing out of the side of the hill. After the rain stopped the spring would dry up and the water would stop flowing out of the side of the hill.
I remember when I was there I went with a friend of mine (he was five years old) and his father for a walk through the woods. We saw half a wooden sled and my friend asked his father what it was. Of course I was a big boy and I knew. It snows there about once every twenty years.
My friend and I explored all the woods around and picked flowers in the spring. We found trilliums, wild Iris, johnny jump-ups (yellow violets to you), mayflowers, and many more that I cannot remember.
One of our neighbors was a commercial fisherman and in the middle of the afternoon he would bring some of his catch around to sell. My mother would buy salmon, or rock cod, or ling cod, or some other fish and cook them for dinner. I can still remember how good they were.
This is about all I can remember now. Grandma and I hope you get a Girl Scout badge for this.
The influenza epidemic Forrest wrote about was the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. It killed more people than World War I, somewhere between 20 and 40 million people all over the world. It was the most devastating epidemic in world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.
By 1922 Forrest and his family were living in Portland, Oregon. I have his 6th and 7th grade report cards from Glencoe School. For High School, he attended an all boys school called Benson Polytechnic School. he graduated from there in 1928. Then he went on to college at Reed College in Portland where he was one of seven students to graduate with a degree in Physics in 1932.
When Forrest first graduated from college it was the height of the Depression. Jobs were very hard to find. So he took a job working on the railroad and felt lucky to get it. If you had known Grandpa it would make you laugh to think of him working on the railroad. He was about the most non-athletic man I've ever known. He was very tall and looked strong but he wasn't cut out to be a physical laborer. But that was all he could find so that's what he did.
But in September of 1935 he went to work at the Bonneville Dam which was still under construction. The dam was one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal projects. The New Deal attempted to provide recovery and relief from the Great Depression through many various government programs. The Bonneville Dam was one of the New Deal's public works programs. It is one of the major dams on the Columbia River where it passes through the Cascade Mountains between Oregon and Washington. It was built between 1933 and 1943 by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. It is used for navigation, flood control, and power production. It has locks that enable ships to pass the dam and fish ladders that allow salmon to spawn upriver. Forrest considered himself very lucky to get the job and worked his way up from the position of clerk to that of generator operator. It also enabled him to marry his sweetheart.
Thelma DeMouth was one of several young women working in the home of Forrest's physics professor, Marcus O'Day. They were married 16 Nov 1935 in the Reed College Chapel. Their first home was a very tiny one in the forest on the side of a mountain overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. They called it "The Shack". I have a photo of it around here somewhere. Here Thelma pursued her artistic career while Forrest worked at the dam.
This is what their friend, Dianne Joseph, wrote about their marriage on the occasion of Forrest's death.
"Yes, your father did adore your mother and learned to love music, opera, art, ballet and all because of his deep love for her. Certainly with the academic mind and the brains he had, it would be very difficult for anyone to even bend enough to try to enjoy the fantasies and such of a woman, but not Forrie. He was kind and gentle and couldn't hurt anyone, nor could he see any bad in anyone. Your mother, too, was the same. When I first met them and grew to know them, they always maintained a certain amount of innocence that was refreshing, especially at that particular time of turmoil and war that we lived in. What a legacy he has left you."
That Forrest and Thelma were always very much in love was obvious even to me as a small child. She was his Dido. He was her Forrie. Here is how I wrote about them for Dad's Eulogy:
"But the one central fact that I remember from those years is how he adored my mother. Even the foolish things she would do, he would somehow transform into something cute, clever, or artistic. Because he loved her, he learned to enjoy the things she enjoyed like art and ballet. And all through my teenage years he took me to art shows and every summer to the ballet because he wanted me to share this part of my mother that he had known.."
On 29 October 1939 their first child Jon Christian was born and they left the shack and moved down to the grounds of the dam. World War II had already begun. It would be two years before the United States entered the war. But the time passed quickly for the little family and early in 1942 Forrest enlisted in the US Navy and went off to Officers Training School in New port, Rhode Island, the same place as your mommy went about fifty years later.
Then he was sent to Norfolk, Virginia where he trained to be a gyro compass officer. Their second child, Dianne Irene, was born there on 23 Oct 1943. Soon after Forrest was sent to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Thelma and the two children went back to Portland to wait out the war with Grandma and Grandpa Zimmerman. The war finally ended and Forrest came out of the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
Soon after that the family moved clear across the country to Boston. One reason for this move was that a number of friends from the Reed College days all there. There were Marcus O'Day and his family, Fred and Peg Nicodemus whom we called Peggy and Nick, Herb French, the Moores - they all went to Boston, so we went too. There Forrest worked for the Air Force Cambridge Research Center as an electrical engineer designing and testing transformers, chokes, and generators. We first lived in Jamaica Plains, a Boston neighborhood. We soon moved to a large housing project in Ayre, Massachusetts that was full of returning servicemen and their families. In the fall of 1949 we moved to our first house in Lexington, Massachusetts Here's how I explained my dad during that period to an old friend.
I lived on School Street. Number 44. We were probably the curse of the neighborhood. I love my father dearly and always have. I have to say that before I tell you how totally inept he was at managing the nuts and bolts stuff of everyday life. Perhaps he was more of an intellectual. Anyway, when we moved there in the fall of 1949 the house had a white front and dark green on the sides and back. My mother thought it should all be white. Someone told my dad that he couldn't paint white over dark green so he went out and bought a very tall ladder and a bucket of silver paint. He proceeded to paint one green side of the house silver - a base coat supposedly. I don't know if the effort overwhelmed him or exactly what the problem was but from then on we had a three color house - white, dark green, and silver. It must have been quite a sight. The neighbor behind us kept goats. One time they asked us to watch their goats while they went out of town. My dad brought them down to graze on the lawn so he wouldn't have to mow. Actually, that sounds to me very sensible. No pollution - not that we ever owned a gasoline lawn mower.
My brother says Daddy just talked about having the goats mow the lawn. It didn't actually happen. But more was going on than not wanting to paint or mow. It was becoming increasingly clear that Thelma's health was going downhill. She suffered from rheumatic heart disease and her doctor would put her on a regimen of bed rest for weeks at a time. In the spring of 1952 Forrest and Thelma came in contact with a doctor who thought he could correct the leaky valve with surgery but she would have to spend time in the hospital in Boston to build her strength prior to the surgery. Before the operation could be performed she suffered a major stroke. If only she could have had the surgery! It would have been one of the first open heart operations. Instead she died of a second stroke on Jon's 13th birthday, 29 October 1952. It practically killed Forrest. This is how I described it in the Eulogy.
"When our mother died he grieved terribly. Sometimes at night I would hear him pacing the floor outside my door and I'd get up and play cards or chess with him. Those were very difficult times for him, coping with two active growing kids and trying to maintain a household while overwhelmed with grief. But he always came home to us at night. And he always managed to get a meal on the table. Potatoes were his specialty. He also tried to get us to church every week. These things were made more difficult by the fact that our old Studebaker konked out that winter. We took the bus a lot. And I can remember more than once carrying sacks of groceries a mile home from the store. Finally he did the only thing he could do. He left his friends and memories and came to Illinois so that Aunt Musa, my mother's sister, could help raise us."
He went to work for Gramer-Halldorson Transformer Corp, Chicago, designing and testing transformers. It was a long commute everyday on the train. It was ten months before we found a place where we could all live together, a flat in Highwood, IL. Until then Dianne lived at the YWCA in Highland Park with Aunt Musa and Forrest and Jon lived in a tiny upstairs apartment nearby and every night Aunt Musa and Dianne would walk the mile up St John's Avenue to cook and eat supper at the apartment. The next spring Daddy, Jon, Aunt Musa and I moved into a large apartment together in Highwood, Illinois. That was an interesting year. Dad was still feeling very forlorn and uprooted, Jon had turned into an awkward teenager, Aunt Musa was trying to maintain the household, put up with us all and keep up her job as a YWCA executive, and was kind of just there.
Sometime during that second year without our Mommy Forrest met, and courted Kathryn Kleasner. They married on 16 July 1955. After that our lives became much more peaceful and stable. These were probably the most contented years of my dad's life as under her sunny disposition and good organizing skills we all flourished.
When Forrest and Kathryn married we moved to a little house in Waukegan, Illinois. Also about that time Dad began working for Kleinschmidt Laboratories responsible for the selection of electrical components used in manufactured equipment for Signal Corps. In August 1957 he changed jobs again and began employment with the Ninth Naval District, Utilities Division, Great Lakes, Illinois as an electrical engineer, where he spent the rest of his working life. Two high points of his years at Great Lakes were being named Federal Employee of the year for the Chicago area and earning his professional engineer certification, both in 1965.
In 1969 he retired and he and Kathryn moved to the Seattle area. Forrest loved the Pacific Northwest where he had been raised and he had always wanted to retire there. He had drawn up plans for a retirement home he wanted to have built and he looked forward to trips and travel. But Kathryn's health was not good. Even though she spent four months in University of Washington Hospital, the doctors were unable to definitively diagnose her multiple sclerosis which was progressing rapidly. So instead of the retirement house, they found a beautiful apartment right on the beach in Edmonds, Washington. And instead of travel, Forrest enjoyed watching the boats on Puget Sound and visiting with all the older gentlemen he would meet while walking about town.
In 1975 they moved to Madison, Wisconsin because of Kathryn's health issues, coming to Oakwood Retirement Village in 1979. After the move to Oakwood it became more and more clear that Dad's mind was going. He was diagnosed as having Parkinson's Disease with dementia. By the fall of 1985 Kathryn, who had become quite crippled and was wheelchair bound, was no longer able to care for him and he had to be moved to a nursing home. He died on March 8, 1989 at the New Glarus Home in New Glarus, Wisconsin.
I close this story with a section from the eulogy I gave at his Memorial service.
"My dad had kind of a fierce look about him that might have gone well with a ancient warrior or king. His bald head with the black fringe of hair, his dark eyes that looked out from deep wells, his heavy dark eyebrows, and his tall stature would have been impessive on a Roman soldier or a Spanish conqueror. I was a teenager before I began to appreciate the fact that his visage did not in any way match his demeanor. Yes he had a temper, but his bark was worse than his bite. And underneath it all he was a real pussy cat of a man that needed someone to take care of him. He was gentle and tender and affectionate. Sharon at the nursing home summed it up when she said, 'So often when people get older and develop things like Alzheimer's, their true nature comes out and they can get very cranky and irritable. But your dad was always pleasant to everybody. He was a true gentleman in the truest sense of the word.'
I'd like to share three things about my dad's character that I especially admire. First of all, he was basically I think, a man of simple pleasures and simple dreams. And in this world of people who seem to need more and more of everything to be happy, I find that very refreshing. He loved to read. He read voraciously science and history and literature and for many, many years he remembered everything he read. He had a wonderful mind. My dad was a good humored fellow who loved to razz and hear and tell a good story. We used to joke that Aunt Musa could remember the details of meals she had eaten 50 years ago. well, Dad could remember the punch lines of funny incidents that had happened 50 years earlier. And especially as he grew older he enjoyed roaming around town and "shooting the breeze" with various older gentlemen of the same inclination. My dad enjoyed good food, gadgets, playing solitaire, and going for drives in the country. And he loved his country very much. He was also a man of simple dreams. He had a dream retirement home that was drawn but never built. He also dreamed of retiring in the Pacific northwest which he did for six years and heartily enjoyed it and gave us wonderful vacations there. And he dreamed of traveling. Though I know he didn't get to all the places he wanted to, he did get to Churchill, Canada and to Alaska. In our time these are simple dreams and pleasures.
The second thing I admire about my dad is that he had great respect for the women in his life. He was non-chauvinistic and that's why it took me so long to understand the women's lib movement. He always encouraged me academically and never led me to believe there was anything I couldn't do just because I was female. He always took time to help me with my homework in math and English. I wish I could say that because of him I went on to become a great scholar. It wasn't for lack of his encouragement that I didn't. I know he must have been terribly disappointed when I dropped out of school to get married, but he accepted it and was just as proud of me as a wife and a mother as he had been of me as a scholar.
The third thing that I admire is he was a man of steadfast affection who never wavered in his loyalty. He had two wives. He loved each of them very much. Each of them ended up in a wheelchair and required a great deal of care from him. And yet I don't believe he ever complained. He got Irritable at times, but it was a fleeting irritation. In each case he considered himself very lucky to have such a wonderful wife. And he did his very best as long as he could. I know there's a lesson here for me.
So this was my dad - a fine man that we loved very much. A man of steadfast affection - a true gentleman."
Oh, one more thing I admire --- his hair never did turn gray!
Kathryn Virginia Kleasner:
Cause of Death: Congestive heart Failure, cardiomyopathy
Buried: Cremation - Ashes in UW Arboretum, Madison, WI 17
The Kathryn Virginia Kleasner Story
1918 New Franklin, Missouri - 1992 Madison, Wisconsin
3 November 2004
Tonight I want to tell you about a very special lady that your Mommy loved very much. And I did too. And so did everyone that knew her. She is the person we call Grandma Zimmerman, Kathryn Virginia Kleasner Zimmerman. Kathryn was born to a poor young farming couple, Lewis and Mattie Lou Kleasner, in rural Howard County, Missouri near the town of New Franklin, on the 24th of July, 1918, at 5:00 o'clock in the morning. She was their second child, their first being 20 month old Lewis Junior. Kathryn's nickname in her birth family was always "Sis." Soon after Kathryn came Evelyn Lucille in 1920 whom everyone called "Tudie." Then it was eight years before the next child, Earl Wayne, was born in 1928, and two years later the last child, Kenneth. Sis and Tudie fought all the time. Sis took a scar to her grave that Tudie gave her once with a bite on the arm. However, they were both old enough to be little mothers to Kenny and Wayne, whom they both adored.
Farm life was hard for the Kleasners. I don't believe they were ever able to own their own farm. They rented. Everything they ate, they grew. This is the way Kathryn described life on the farm in the days of her childhood in a letter to her granddaughter Dawne in 1974.
"Our way of life was rather primitive in some ways such as no electricity, running water, and definitely no modern conveniences of today. We had to grow all our food. That covered meat, (pork and beef) chickens, vegetables and fruits. Lots of our summer days were spent in the vegetable garden, hoeing and keeping weeds from taking over. We had to can all vegetables and fruits and place them in a food cellar. My mother was the kind that definitely canned enough food of all kinds to feed her family all winter.
"Butchering time for the pigs and beef was a neighborhood affair. Neighbors helped one another as killing a big beef or porker was a big job. This could not be done until very cold weather started. You had to cool your fresh meat good before you cured it. This was done in what they called a "smoke house." After your pork was all trimmed and sugar and salt coated it was smoked by burning very small hickory logs in this tightly closed house. The trimmings were fat from the pigs so that called for a big session of cutting this fat into small chunks and cooking it in a big kettle over a fire. That was called lard and was long before Crisco was ever heard of. Some of the meat had to be canned. A lot was made into sausages and smoked. The farm ladies always made head cheese - truly a delicious part of fresh meat. My father usually butchered 5 or 6 big hogs. They usually milked about 6 Jersey cows and that meant lots of rich cream to be made into butter and sold at the grocery store.
"As for fun, we had to make our own fun. We were always allowed to have neighborhood children over and we were luckier than some farmers as we had a car. My father was a great lover of the model "T" Ford and also had a Ford tractor. Our dad was wonderful at going after our friends for us. One thing Grandma remembers so well that was so much fun - We didn't have paved highways and when a snow storm hit opening up roads was unheard of. One of our neighbors had a huge horse drawn sleigh. So he would start out and go from farm to farm gathering up all the children for school. We always sang songs. What fun!
"Would you believe Grandma went to a one room school house where all eight grades were taught? How we did have fun when time came to put on our Christmas play. We all would take a sheet and would make curtains that would draw. Our plays were something to remember. Another thing that was a lot of fun - we always held a "pie social" every fall at school. The girls were to trim a box up pretty and make a pie. Then at the social the boys would bid on them. You never knew who would help you eat your pie.
"One nice thing - we had telephones. Kids talked as much on them then as they do today. Another thing that was fun - Grandma and Aunt Tudie always built a "pretend" house under a big apple tree. That worked fine until my brother and his friends would come to visit us."
More memories of childhood come from an article I wrote about Kathryn in the Oakwood newsletter of June 1982.
" The girls learned to sew on brightly printed flour sacks from which they made their dresses.
They had fun, too, a play house under an apple tree, baseball in the summer, and on winter evenings playing cards and popping corn. The three older ones rode several miles to a one-room school on a little horse named Trixie. Her father allowed bands of gypsies who traveled the countryside to camp near the house and her mother gave them milk for their children. They told fortunes for a penny. When her Grandfather Brown went out to have his told in the evening, Kathryn worried about him, but he would be back in the morning and the gypsies gone.
"During the Depression many men who were out of work walked the roads or rode the freight trains looking for odd jobs. Though her daddy couldn't afford to hire them, her mother always managed to find something for them to eat."
The Great Depression hit rural America earlier than it hit the cities. During the First World War (1914-1918) the United States had become a bread basket for the troops fighting in Europe. Farmers thrived and expanded their fields. After the war, which ended in 1918, farmers kept up the higher level of production, but with the war market gone, demand for farm products declined and prices fell - dramatically. Since farmers were getting less money for their crop they decided to make up for it by growing even more which caused prices to fall further. So the 1920's, when Kathryn was a little girl, were a time of depression on the farm. While people in the cities were getting running water and lights in their homes, these modern conveniences were not coming to the farms, at least not the ones in central Missouri where Kathryn lived. Everything had to be used very carefully. Nothing could be wasted. And although the Kleasners were poor by today's standards, they didn't feel poor because everybody they knew was in the same boat.
The following story comes again from the Oakwood newsletter article. After finishing the eighth grade in 1932 Kathryn couldn't afford to go to the high school ten miles away. Besides, the family needed any money she could earn by working for families in the area. The pay was negligible and she suffered agonies of homesickness. In fact, in all the jobs she held over the next 20 years, she never got over being homesick.
In Kansas City she got a better job, earning $6.50 a week out of which she saved enough to buy a radio for her father and brothers to listen to ball games. On her days off she enjoyed the local YWCA where she made two fast friends among the working girls. They were Agnes Quinllan and Esther Albers. Eventually the three friends went to the Chicago area to work for wealthy familites along Lake Michigan. Though she worked for a kind family, the Angster's, with a huge house near the lake, Kathryn was so homesick that she took a bus to Missouri every time she could. The first year her family had electricity she saved enough money to buy her mother a refrigerator. And once again she found social life at the YWCA.
I want to tell you a little bit about the YWCA because it played such an important part in the history of our family. Young Women's Christian Association was formed in London by Emma Roberts and Mrs. Arthur Kinnaird in 1855 and was introduced to the United States in 1858.TThroughout its history the YWCA has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women. Here are some highlights of the YWCA's history that I gleaned from their web page.
In 1860 - The YWCA opened the first boarding house for female students, teachers and factory workers in New York City as women moved from farms to cities. In the 1870s - Recognizing women's needs for jobs, the YWCA held the first typewriting classes for women, formerly considered a man's occupation, and opened the first employment bureau. In 1946 - YWCA adopted its Interracial Charter - eight years before the US Supreme Court decision against segregation. In the 1950s - As African countries became independent, the United States sent leaders who moved from village to village to tell the YWCA story and help women marshal their own leadership and resources to create indigenous YWCAs in Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa and elsewhere. Uganda achieved remarkable participation - 90 percent of women were YWCA members by the 1990s. In 1960 - The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to blacks, becoming the city's first desegregated public dining facility. Separate black YWCA branches and facilities were integrated into the whole.
I also want to tell you a little bit about the YWCA as we knew it in Highland Park, Illinois. It was a huge 100 year old house about six blocks west of Lake Michigan. Young women working in the area rented the upstairs rooms for a nominal fee like $20 per month. There were programs and classes for many groups of people - the elderly, African Americans, women who worked in the wealthy North Shore homes. There were painting classes, bridge classes, dancing classes. There were always people, more kinds of people than I had ever known existed, coming and going. I learned right away that the motto of the YWCA was that it was for all women without regard to race or creed or religion.
It was at the Highland Park YWCA at 474 Laurel Avenue, which no longer exists because it was torn down to make room for a library expansion in the 1960's, that Kathryn met a little dark haired girl who had lost her mother and had come to live with her aunt who was the executive director of the YW. The girl liked the plump lady with the beautiful smile and would watch for her coming. A real love affair developed between the two. A year later when the girls' father and brother came to visit, Kathryn's cheerful ways captured the heart of the grieving father and in 1955 they were married. Instantly she became the mother of the girl (Yes, that's me, Dianne Irene Zimmerman Stevens) and the 15 year old boy (my brother, Jon Christian Zimmerman).
She joined the family in a project house in Waukegan, Illinois. It was a little 3 bedroom house exactly like 100 others in the neighborhood, but oh how happy we were there. It's hard to explain the magic Kathryn worked on our family. Under Kathryn's management home became an oasis of peace and order and happiness. Kathryn was 37. It was her first and only marriage. She may have brought extra joy in knowing she no longer had to worry that her dreams of family and home would go unfullfilled. The Zimmerman family had been limping along without a mother for nearly three years. We truly appreciated the homemaking skills Kathryn brought with her. More than that we all thrived under the spell of genuine love that she brought.
The following spring the job of Resident Director of the Highland Park YW opened up. For 10 years, along with her home duties Kathryn ran the Y's residence for 15 girls, supervised the upkeep of the building and kept the books. She loved her job, though it was difficult to keep up both at home and at work. Kathryn rose at 5:30 every morning and seldom came home before 6 at night. For most of those years she commuted to work on the train - Chicago & Northwestern. People coming to the YW loved being greeted by her warm smile just as Dianne had. She was an extremely capable manager. Her talents were so appreciated that at one point when Aunt Musa DeMouth left the position of executive director to take a job in Billings, Montana, that job was offered to Kathryn. She turned it down because she was intimidated at the prospect of standing up and giving reports to the extremely well-educated women on the board of directors. She was very aware of only having an eighth grade education. One highlight of that job was the Christmas bazaar held every year in the fall. Kathryn loved making things to sell. Another was the opportunity to work at the Americanization of Gilda Bosco. The first day Gilda, who was a new immigrant from southern Italy, worked at the Y she put the electric toaster in a sink of hot soapy water. Kathryn proved a patient and persistent teacher and we became life-long friends with Gilda and her family. One of the bizarre stories that I remember from those days was the time when the board had hired a fairly screwy executive director who kept believing the Y was being visited by an intruder every night. She talked Kathryn into staying overnight and hiding in her office closet to apprehend the said intruder...but only once. That Exec was gone soon after that incident.
By 1966 it was becoming clear that something was not right with Kathryn's health. She was having more and more trouble walking. She had had to give up travelling to work on the train and instead Forrest drove her back and forth everyday. In 1966 she had back surgery to remove a growth on her spine. Afterwards she needed a walker to walk and she sadly gave up her YWCA job .
In 1969 Forrest retired from his job as an electrical engineer at Great Lakes Naval Base. He had always dreamed of retiring in his beloved Pacific Northwest. So they packed up their belongings, sent them on ahead by moving van, and they took the train to Seattle. Kathryn arrived in pretty sorry shape. She could barely walk even with the walker and was in constant pain. She soon landed in the University of Washington Hospital's neurology unit. She was there for four months, lost 100 pounds, and came out in a wheelchair. Although the doctors thought she might have Multiple Sclerosis they weren't sure and no one told her it was a possibility. In the meantime Forrest had moved them to a lovely apartment overlooking Puget Sound in the town of Edmonds, north of Seattle. That's where your Mommy and her brother and sister came every summer to visit for 4 years. And what wonderful visits they were! Grandpa was anxious to show his grandchildren every sight that could be seen. And Dianne and her mom no matter how hard they tried never ran out of things to talk about. But the years in Edmonds were lonely for Kathryn. She never got over missing the hubbub of her job at the YWCA. Forrest could come and go, make friends, and join in community activities. It was different for Kathryn. She was confined in her wheelchair now and it was difficult to get out and meet people. She got tired of looking out at "that old water." Forrest had had dreams of travel, but that was not to be for Kathryn. She encouraged Forrest to go without her and he did so. One time when he went on a trip to Alaska, Kathryn fell. Unable to get up she spent many hours on the floor before she was able to work her way to the telephone and call for help. Her health was not improving.
So in 1975 Forrest reluctantly moved with her back to Madison, Wisconsin to be near Dianne and her family. They enjoyed their grandchildren immensley but it seemed to be the beginning of a long slow decline for Forrest.
One of their first acts was to get a new neurological report on Kathryn. She was in the University of Wisconsin Hospital's Neurology unit which was out on East Washington Avenue at that time. After many tests they came up with the diagnosis of neurological disorder of uncertain etiology. They said she might have Multiple Sclerosis but they weren't sure. So Kathryn kept trying to walk, walking up and down the hallway with her walker everyday. The next major event in Kathryn's life happened in late summer of 1976. She fell while transferring in the bathroom. She broke her thigh bone just above the knee. Dr. Breed put her leg in traction. She hung there for seven weeks. The leg never did heal properly. Eventually they sent her home and she never stood on her legs again. Forrest bought a hoyer lift and a van with a motorized lift and they learned to get along with the aide of this special equipment. Forrest was wonderful. He had to get Kathryn out of bed every morning and into bed every night, but like his father before him he never complained. Kathryn quickly learned to take care of all her other needs herself.
In 1979 they moved once more to Oakwood Retirement Home, 15th floor. Here Kathryn was truly happy. She and Forrest went to the dining hall every night, and with her warm smile and caring nature, Kathryn quickly made friends with almost everyone in the building. When Forrest's health declined to the point that he was no longer able to help Kathryn in and out of bed, she found outside help and remained very independent. Now it was her turn to take care of him. He could walk and move but could not remember what to do. She couldn't walk but knew exactly what needed to be done. And for the next several years they made a pretty good team. Eventually Forrest needed much more than Kathryn's supervision and in the fall of 1985 had to go to a nursing home. He died in 1989. Kathryn remained at Oakwood and flourished in the glow of friendships she had made inspite of numerous aflictions.
Besides her undiagnosed neurological disorder, Kathryn had terrific arthritis, occassionally suffered from TIAs (transient ischemic attacks)(they are mini-strokes which supposedly to not leave permanent damage.), and sporadically developed decubitis ulcers. On the night of May 1, 1990 she suffered a TIA. It knocked out her ability to speak and did not seem to be reversing itself as previous ones had done. After several hours she decided perhaps she'd better go to the hospital. So I called the ambulance and off we went to St. Mary's Hospital. By the next day the TIA had totally disappeared but they wanted to keep her several days to treat the decubitis ulcer on the back on one heel. The day before she was to go home, she was in her wheelchair on a platform having a whirlpool treatment for the leg. Someone came along and bumped her chair. The chair rolled off the platform and Kathryn fell out onto the floor. No one realized it till the next day, but both her legs were broken. She never returned to her apartment again. Instead she was sent to Oakwood's nursing home where she stayed for a month, rarely getting the proper care.
So in June of 1990, she came to live with the Stevens family. This made for a busy household as Heather had suffered a severe brain injury and needed constant care and Daniel was only 6 years old. Cindy Maloy, Dianne Hess, and Elspeth Gordon were three people who helped us get through those days. Kathryn was not easy to care for. She had both legs out in front of her in splints. Being out of commission in the nursing home for a month, she had lost many abilities including the ability to sit up properly, feed herself, and to write. She had no bed mobility at all and had to be turned. She had gone from being almost totally independent to being totally dependent. And then she developed terrific diarrhea which last for four months and was only then traced to the medication baclofin that had been prescribed in the hoispital to keep her legs from spasming in the splints and rubbing on the decubiti. Fortunately Kathryn never remembered the diarrhea. It took two people to move her from bed to chair and back. And Heather still needed help too. Someone got us in touch with the Chinese group in town. We went through nine Chinese women. Then we tried the Polish. We went through three Polish live-ins. Somehow we all survived and kept smiling. I remember one call I made home to Dianne Hess one evening when I had Dan at the doctor's for an ear infection. It went something like this: "After you get Grandma's diarrhea cleaned up and have given Heather her exercises, could you please clean up the cat vomit in the backhall?" We all had a good laugh about that one. We kept a diary of those days. All the volumes are carefully stowed away in the Box room.
After we conquered the diarrhea Kathryn had one fabulous year at the Stevens home before beginning to go downhill in the fall of 1991. It's surprising how many threads of her life came together in her last few months. Her son, Jon, and his wife, Nancy, came to visit. Her brother Kenny, whom she hadn't seen in 25 years, came to visit her. A friend from childhood, whom she had not seen in 60 years, wrote to her. Her old friend from the Y, Viola Poore, whom she hadn't seen in twenty years, called and they had a wonderful telephone visit. A large group of Oakwood friends came over to Stevens' house for an afternoon party. And she made one last visit to the dining hall at Oakwood Village. She died of heart failure at University Hospital on the 10th of February 1992. An autopsy showed she had indeed had multiple sclerosis.
You may be wondering what became of her dear farm family in Missouri. Grandpa Lewis Kleasner died only two years after Kathryn's marriage in June of 1957. Grandma Mattie Lou took it very hard and several months later attempted to swallow a bottle of aspirin, but was found in time to revive her. She moved into town with her younger daughter,Tudie, and lived for ten more years. Tudie was married to a man who drank too much. She supported him and herself and then her mother on her wages as a telephone operator. After her husband and her mother died, Tudie married again and seemed to be very happy But she died of heart problems less than a year later. Lewis Jr. grew up just in time to get in on World War II. He drove a tank in the Battle of the Bulge and then on through Germany. He helped to liberate the concentration camps. Lewie lived most of his life in California. Wayne and Kenny both loved to play baseball. Kenny was a on a Yankee farm team for awhile. Wayne married a tiny woman named Gladys and they had two daughters - the only blood grandchildren from Lewis and Mattie Lou. Wayne had his own trucking business near Columbia for many years. Kenny was the only child who finished high school - and just in time for the Korean War. After the war he went to college and had a wonderful job for many years with Brown & Root, doing something with pipelines in Bahrain. He and his wife Johnnie live in Houston, Texas. The Kleasners were all wonderful people, cheerful and hardworking, just like Kathryn - just good-salt-of-the-earth people. My brother and I adored them. We always looked forward to our trips to Missouri with eager anticipation.
This is what I said about "Grandma" at her Memorial service:
"My mom was a super nice lady with a big heart and a big smile. She had tremendous organizational abilities, she was a wonderful mother, and she radiated a courageous joyful spirit.
"My mom had a big heart. She came from a poor Missouri farm family, She had to leave home when she was just 14 to help support her family. But she always had a heart for the poor. Maybe she got it from her dad whom she said would always find something to share with the hobos who would stop by their farm. When she was a very young woman she left Missouri and went to the Chicago area to work.She was upset for a long time by the experience of riding on the train through Chicago's slum neighborhoods. It made her so sad to think that anyone would have to live in such places. When we were growing up it seemed that whenever she received a request in the mail to help the poor she would always find a few dollars to send.
"My mom had a big smile. Her smile could light up a whole room. The first time I ever remember seeing her was one day when she came through the big front door at the YWCA where I was staying with my aunt. She had such a beautiful smile and it seemed like it was just for me. After that whenever groups of people would come to the Y for meetings, I would always watch and hope that the lady with the beautiful smile would come.
"My mom had tremendous organizational abilities. When she married my dad we were a forlorn raggle- taggle little group, my dad, my brother and me. And she made us such a good home. Though it was humble by material standards, she used her many skills to make it an oasis of peace and order and happiness in a bustling busy world. It was such fun to help her with the housework because she took such pride in it and enjoyed it so.
"My mom was a wonderful mother. She made me feel I had no problem too large or too small for her to be concerned about. I remember when I was a full-grown high school girl I would look forward to each evening when she would get home from work, and while she changed her clothes I would sprawl across the bed and tell her everything that had happened to me all day long and she would help me figure out what it all meant. And we had such fun together! She really taught me to find the fun in everyday living.
"My mom was a woman of tremendous courage and spirit. She suffered with various physical problems all her life. She spent her last 20 years in a wheelchair. But she didn't let these things stop her from enjoying her friends and family and from running her own life the way she wanted it to be. Because of her great spirit I always felt like people who knew my mom socially would have been very surprised to learn how very physically handicapped she really was - and those who knew what shape she was in physically would have been very surprised to see how resourceful and ingenious she was at caring for herself, and how independent she was able to be. She was a tremendous example for myself and many others of living with adversity.
"A former minister at my church was fond or quoting a great theologian who had said, 'Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.' Everytime I heard him say that the image of my mother came to my mind. My mom was a person who found joy in life. And she radiated joy to everyone around her. She was surely one of God's special people."
So, dear children, when you hear your mommy or me talk about "Grandma" this is who we mean, Kathryn Virginia Kleasner Zimmerman. She lived a full and wonderful life and though she had many adversities, she never stopped smiling. I hope you will help us remember her because she never had birth children. She was a beloved mother to Dianne, though a step-mother. Dianne had Dawne. Dawne had you. So she was your step-great-grandmother. And she would have adored you.
Line 20 1289 E. Morrison Dwelling # 115 Household # 137
Zimmerman, George E. Head age 40 MN Can OH OCC: Mechanic- Iron works
Minnie J. Wife 39 IA Ger Ger
Forest E. Son 10 WA MN IA
Line 22 972 Wasco Dwelling 37 Household 37
Zimmerman, George E. Head Owns $6000 Radio age 50 m at 24 MN CAN OH occ: Sheet metal worker in Bldg trade
Minnie J. wife 49 23 IA GER GER None
Forrest E. son 20 s WA MN IA None
Tacoma Ward 3 ED# 244 1323 S. M Street Dwelling # 28 Households #'s 29 and 30 Line 23 - 29
Zimmerman, George E. Head 30 M1 5yrs MN Can PA OCC: Tinsmith at Hardware store R
Minnie J wife 29 M1 5yrs IA GER GER
Forrest son 3/12 WA MN IA
Mundorf, John Head 28 M1 5yrs KS GER PA Laborer at odd jobs R
Ella C wife 25 M1 5yrs OR GER GER
Lowell L son 3 OR KS OR
Druschel, Mitelda mother-in-law 65 wd GER GER GER
U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 about Forrest Zimmerman
Name: Forrest Zimmerman
Birth Date: 28 Dec 1909
Death Date: 8 Mar 1989
Cause of Death: Natural
Branch 1: N
Enlistment Date 1: 10 Sep 1942
Release Date 1: 14 Jan 1946
Revised: November 26, 2016