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Interview with Ronna T. Zimmer, August 20, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Ronna T. Zimmer, August 20, 2008
August 20, 2008
In this interview, Wilmington notable Ronna Zimmer discusses growing up in the jewelry business, raising her two sons, as well as her philanthropic endeavors, which include extensive work with the State Cancer Control Board and the Zimmer Cancer Center, and also with the Ability Garden, a gardening space that promotes successful gardening for groups and individuals with physical and mental limitations.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Zimmer, Ronna Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 8/20/08 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60 minutes

Jones: Today is Wednesday, August 20th, 2008, and I'm Carroll Jones, with Kate Sweeney, for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Project in the Helen Hagan Room of Special Collections at UNCW. Our special guest, this morning, is Ronna Zimmer, a true hands-on volunteer dedicated to enriching the quality of life in Wilmington. A major accomplishment is her work with a cancer awareness, and she herself is a cancer survivor, as is her husband, Herbert Zimmer. Ronna is a master gardener, and on the board of directors of the Arboretum Foundation. And we'd like her, at some point, to just tell is a little bit about the Ability Garden. Board of Trustees of Thalian Hall Foundation, Friends of Cape Fear Museum, a past president of the New Hanover County Library Foundation. Mrs. Zimmer has earned a BS in Speech Pathology and Audiology at Syracuse University, and a Master of Arts degree in Speech Pathology at SUNY Buffalo. Her personal interests are varied, and let us hear her speak of these. Good morning, Mrs. Zimmer.

Zimmer: Good morning. How are you, today?

Jones: I'm fine, thank you. This is wonderful of you to take time and come talk to us.

Zimmer: Well, thank you.

Jones: You are a person of many, many interests. I didn't include all of them. I thought maybe you'd talk about it. I don't know how you have time for all of them. But tell us a little about your early years, where you're from, your education, mentor if there was one, and your personal goals growing up, and then how you got to Wilmington.

Zimmer: Well, I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and loved it. I'm one of the few people, I think, that really loved it, and I probably would still be there if my husband hadn't been from Wilmington and didn't like it. But my parents were a huge influence in my early life. I had gone to private schools, and especially a private girl's high school, where volunteerism was stressed. We were all very fortunate, and were encouraged to give back to our communities. And so, volunteerism in many areas way back then, was quite unusual, but it was definitely encouraged. My mother, especially, was very active, a very active volunteer in our community, especially in the arts, and so she encouraged that. I know when we traveled, which was quite frequently, the first place we would ever go would be to art galleries and museums, because that was a very important part of our lives. And I was hoping, as my children got older, to instill that in them, and hopefully I have. So my younger years were spent with sports and volunteering. I was a very active skier, and horseback rider and ice skater. And a lot of those activities, when I moved here, I could not do anymore.

Jones: Well, the skiing and ice skating I can understand in Buffalo. But what about horses? Was it warm enough to keep them up there?

Zimmer: Well, I grew up riding hunters and jumpers. And when I moved here, I took a vacation for a while, from riding, until my oldest son was five, and then I couldn't stand it anymore. We ended up out at Canterbury Stable, where they only had saddlebreds. So that's how we got interested in the saddlebred area of riding. I ended up riding, my older son ended up, with several world champion saddlebreds. And then we had other world champion saddlebreds that trainers rode, and still have a couple of horses, not at that level, though.

Jones: Wonderful. Do you ride still?

Zimmer: I can't. I fell over my dog a few years ago, and have-- and broke my femur, and so I've got a metal bar in my leg, and I gave up my career.

Jones: Oh, that must have hurt a little bit, at least. In both ways it hurt. Well that's, you had a fun growing up, I guess.

Zimmer: I did. Music was also very important.

Jones: Your are a pianist?

Zimmer: I am a pianist, and we could not eat breakfast until we had practiced our piano in the mornings.

Jones: Seriously?

Zimmer: So we did practice.

Jones: You say "we;" how many children in your family?

Zimmer: I had a sister, a sister who also had followed the same regimen that I did.

Jones: Really? Are you close together?

Zimmer: We are fairly close.

Jones: That's good. You came to Wilmington now.

Zimmer: I came to Wilmington, because Herbert's father and my father grew up together in Buffalo. And my father was in the ring manufacturing business, and his father was in the retail jewelry business. And they had done business together for years. Herbert came to Buffalo to set up a pension plan for my father's company, because my father had liked the one he had set up for his father's company, and that's how we met. He was supposed to have gone out with my sister, who got sick, and my father said, "Somebody better go out with my friend," so, and that's how we met. [laughs]

Jones: So this was kind of a push-push thing.

Zimmer: That's how we met. [laughs]

Jones: You must have a laugh over this.

Zimmer: We still do.

Jones: You still do?

Zimmer: We still do, yes.

Jones: Well, it worked.

Zimmer: It did. It did.

Jones: So you married and came to Wilmington. Had you not been here before?

Zimmer: I was here once.

Jones: One time?

Zimmer: One time.

Jones: And that was in the early '70s?

Zimmer: It was in '76. And it was very different from a large metropolitan area.

Jones: Oh, it is. Yeah. It was.

Zimmer: And I came down here, and Herbert's family was just wonderful. They've always been wonderful, and I've been very blessed to have such special in-laws and a family. But I came down here, and I'm always one of those people that likes to keep busy and have something to do. And there wasn't a lot of what I used to do here. So that's when I became a registered-- gemologist, graduate gemologist. I took all the courses and kept myself busy.

Jones: Where did you take these courses?

Zimmer: You took them through the Gemological Institute of America. And a lot of them were correspondence-type courses, but then you also had to do a resident's program to get the graduate degree. And so I did that, and that kept me busy until my children were born.

Jones: With a degree like that, and interest like that, did you work in any of the stores, or was this just to become knowledgeable about the business?

Zimmer: Well, I did work in the stores. I worked; I helped with buying, and I did all the appraisals.

Jones: Did you?

Zimmer: Mm-hm. I did that, and still dabble in them a little bit.

Jones: Do you enjoy it?

Zimmer: I do.

Jones: I talked to somebody one time, a man in New York who used to make trips to Holland. And I could not envision-- he was rapturous about this, and went on and on. And I thought, "Why do you do this? Take a look at these little things and then bring them back and weigh them. Why do you do this? It sounds so boring." I told him, one time, "It sounds so boring." And he said, "It looks so shiny on your finger, doesn't it?"

Zimmer: But it is fascinating, because no two genuine stone are alike.

Jones: That's what he told me.

Zimmer: They all have their individual little characteristics, and it's interesting. I've always loved colored stones, I guess, because that was mainly the area that my father was involved with. So I guess, once it's in your blood-- because he was a ring and jewelry manufacturer, and did mainly colored stones.

Jones: Did he travel?

Zimmer: He did travel. We had pearl beds over in Japan that we had leased. And I did go over there and see those, which was very interesting, near the Mikimoto pearl beds in Aisai, south of Tokyo.

Jones: How about South America? Did he go down there?

Zimmer: I have not. I have not been down there. I would like to.

Jones: What an interesting time. So I guess, for birthdays, you and your sister were given nice pieces of jewelry. What else? I mean, how to win a heart. Talk a little bit about how you became involved in all of these areas that you have been. And since we're talking 1976, that's 30-some years ago. Many of these things have sprung up over the years, and some are quite new. Did you feel compelled? Was this part of your background, to become involved, to do something for the betterment? Were these things you were interested in? Just talk a little about that.

Zimmer: I think it's probably a combination of both. As I said, I don't like to sit around. I like to always have something to do. And when my boys were little is, that's-- I had always wanted to get a degree in piano performance. And my parents had said, "No. You need to get something in a degree where you can support yourself," and that's how I ended up in speech therapy. But when I came down here and had a little extra time, I came out here to UNCW, and I did everything except the last public performance, and that's why I did not get the degree. But, I was scared to do that. And so I took all the coursework and did everything else, took the lessons, did the juries, but never got up and did the two public performances. But I was involved, mainly, with my children. I thought, once you have children, you really need to devote, not just the nine months to produce them, but the 20-some-odd years and now, it turns out even more than that, until they're out on their own. And so, most of my time was spent with them, and a lot of the activities that I got involved with really centered around them.

I got involved with the arts down here, through Cape Fear Academy. I was in charge of the arts programming out there, and used to bring in enrichment acts and enrichment artists, and poets and authors, and I was very involved with that, and that kind of got me going in the arts area down here. But most of the things were involved with the boys, until they got older.

Jones: Let me ask you-- on the arts subject, we've come to realize that this is a very fertile, very large arts community. When I say "arts," it's all-encompassing, whether it's theater arts or paint, or pottery, metal work whatever. And I've interviewed a number. We decided, "Let's find out what's going on," because the people in that community weren't all from here; they'd come from all over. And I'd ask each one, "What brought you here?" Well, the stories are varied, but some of the things that I hear from a number of them, is that this is one place they can paint plein aire, and that it's the light. There is a light here. And I thought, "I'm going to have to look for this light," but only through an artist's eye.

Zimmer: Right.

Jones: Each one had said it's a training place, too. How do you feel about this?

Zimmer: Well, it's interesting you mentioned that, because I had been lucky enough to be head of the yearly arts festival for the first two years of its existence. And part of the arts festival was a plein aire group of artists that we had brought in from all over the country, and that was their comment. They were so amazed that the light here was so good, and there was such a varied landscape which we had never been aware of before. But they were enthused to come here. And then a lot of the artists that we had juried into the show, were from all over the country, and they were just thrilled to come down here. And one of the things I do regret, is that we don't have a large art show like that now. But that doesn't mean that we won't in the future.

Jones: I think that they've tried a couple of times. And maybe it was just not enough interest to support a large one. But you're right; recently, the interest on starting up the art association on Castle. And they've been looking for a person every year. They have exhibits over at St. James Church. And these people are so dedicated. And there is a lady here in town, you may know her-- Ruth Hodges, who's 94-years old. She is amazing, and she keeps up. "Now, next year I'm going to do..." I just hope to get out of bed in the morning. But they're a vibrant crew, and they're very interesting.

Zimmer: We're very fortunate we have very different types of media, too, that are represented down here in the different forms of art. And it seems like a very accepting area for artists. And the influx of people that have moved to this area seemed to have brought with them a love of the arts. So we've been very lucky with the music that's available here, and the visual, and all the different types of art.

Jones: When we began this oral history project, it originally started out by Sherman Hayes, the University Librarian, taking a look at the results of the last census, the complete census, and then breaking down some things. And we took a look at where people were coming from, and possibly an age group. And although we found that a lot of retirees were coming, many of them were younger. And many of them were mid- and upper-level CEOs of large corporations. They may not live here all the time, but they own property, so they're on the tax rolls. And they were too young to do nothing, so the involvement, and all this talent, and suggestions and underwriting. I think most of them came from-- I jokingly refer to Long Island and northern New Jersey as New Wilmington-- from Connecticut, et cetera, and then the West Coast, because of Screen Gems and the TV people, and the chance for musicians. They may not stay here all the time, but perhaps that has helped, in a way.

Zimmer: I think it has. I think it has. And it's also been a wonderful-- it was a wonderful place to raise children. I've spoken to other people who have come here with younger children, and have moved here for that reason. They've moved out of the cities with the hustle and bustle and came down here because they thought it would be a better environment.

Jones: Yeah, we did that. My husband came home, and I agreed, big city girl, because we were raising a child again. Never stops. Well, we're glad you're here. Your sons obviously have been a joy in your life, and I think that's wonderful. I've heard that you've done a lot of traveling with them.

Zimmer: We have. That's one of the highlights of my year. Because where else can you take two young men in their 20s and have them talk to you for all day, have dinner with you, and then and spend the evening with you? This is highly unlikely in the regular world. So when we travel, we get to spend special time with our boys. Our older son is corporate counsel for How Stuff Works, International, in Atlanta. And he travels extensively. But he always spends time with us for at least two nice, special trips each year. Our younger son graduated from Duke Law, and worked on a book about Guantanamo during the past year that was just picked up by Oxford Press. So he will be going on a book tour in the spring, but right now he's moved home. And as I said, I'm enjoying having him there for the few months he'll be there, because...

Jones: And he's going to live here in Wilmington?

Zimmer: He's going to be here in Wilmington and work for his father, which both of them are quite tickled about.

Jones: Well, that's wonderful.

Zimmer: Mm-hmm.

Jones: I know you're pleased.

Zimmer: We are.

Jones: The next thing is to find a nice girl for each of them, and some grandchildren.

Zimmer: Well, I told them, sometimes that would be nice, but sometimes, if you found the wrong girl, you're better off by yourself.

Jones: Well, yes.

Zimmer: [laughs]

Jones: Yes, yes, yes.

Zimmer: But back to, I'll take a second to go back to the different trips you were talking about. We just, for Christmas this past year, we were in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, and spent New Year's Eve in Hong Kong with the fireworks over Victoria Harbor. It was a special time.

Jones: You'll not forget that.

Zimmer: We will not, especially after my husband had been sick. He finished his last chemo treatment the first week of December. The doctors gave him the okay. This trip had been planned for a year. And he was kind of hoping they would tell him he couldn't go, but he went and he was a real trooper.

Jones: That is amazing, because chemo can-- of course, it's different on everybody.

Zimmer: It was debilitating. But we packed him on the plane two weeks after the treatment.

Jones: Amazing.

Zimmer: And he went over to Singapore and did real well.

Jones: That's amazing.

Zimmer: And then Bangkok, which was fantastic and very fascinating and interesting.

Jones: Uh-huh. Well Bangkok, I think is, well. Of course they all are. All are.

Zimmer: But we've traveled. When the boys were young, my mother-in-law used to take the two of them, excuse me, with myself, my sister-in-law and her two sons. And every Spring Break, we would go to another country around the world. So they grew up traveling. They'd been to Russia, and China, and Morocco, and all over Europe.

Jones: It's good for them.

Zimmer: And it instilled a lot of travel. So when they got older, when they've been older we've been, we've traveled quite a bit.

Jones: How old were they when they began traveling?

Zimmer: They were about eight and nine.

Jones: That's a good age, because it gives them an opportunity to see that people are different.

Zimmer: That's right.

Jones: And life is different, and yet it's the same. I think that's an absolute must in educating a child, so you've done that. What are you involved in right now? I know that you are still involved with cancer research or cancer awareness. In what way?

Zimmer: Well, I just got back from the second Lance Armstrong Summit that was in Columbus, Ohio about two weeks ago. Another survivor and I are on the State Cancer Control Board, and we were sent as representatives of North Carolina to this summit. It was fascinating. It was inspiring. It was just incredible. Our purpose for being sent there is to come back with ideas, because we just had the second State Summit for Survivors about a month ago, and she and I along with the state board have headed this up. What we're trying to do is make North Carolina the premier state in the country for survivorship issues, and let other states learn from what we're doing. And we're doing very well here.

Jones: And how are you doing this? Explain.

Zimmer: Well, we're doing it under the auspices of the state Health Department and the state Cancer Boards, and the legislature. And they've enabled us to set up different-- we have different workshops, different committees that reach out to-- our main goal, is to reach out to many of the underserved in the state. A lot of people who live in the cities are aware of different programs and things like that. Granted, there are some in cities who are not, and we're reaching out to them. But there are a lot of people in rural areas of North Carolina who really are not connected at all to these programs, and we're trying to get the word out to them. We're trying to get materials out to them. Being diagnosed with cancer is a scary thing. And if you have no information and you don't know where to go, and you have a doctor who's really not that aware of what's available, there's a problem. And so we're trying to educate. During the past year, a workbook and a little brochure has been made up for family doctors so that they know the steps to take if they have a patient who has been diagnosed with cancer, where to send the patient, what to do. Because a lot of them are just not that aware, if they haven't that much experience with it, and the first few weeks after diagnosis are critical. The people need to be put into the right program, sent to the right hospitals for the treatment to help their survival.

Jones: That explains, yeah, I think that's a wonderful thing, but you're right. I don't know how many people are aware that they can get this information. For example, someone who is diagnosed-- my son's mother-in-law is a widow. She was recently diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. It had spread to both breasts, and they wanted to start her on chemo, immediately. And I talked to her, and I said, "What you need to do is to get in touch with a little group so that you're not so fearful, and learn about it." She said, "I don't know where to go." And I found a book. I said, "Ask your doctor." And her doctor is with WakeMed; it's a big hospital. I said, "Just tell him." And I said, "Don't be afraid to have all kinds of questions. Write things down."

Zimmer: Right. That was good advice.

Jones: "Talk to somebody who's had it and then make up your mind that you're going to beat it, you know." This was just a little over a month ago, and I saw her this past weekend. She's already begun to lose a great deal of her hair. And she said, "I don't know this was going to happen," and I thought, "This is incredible." So what you're doing-- my question is, how do people go about it? They ask their doctor.

Zimmer: They ask their doctor. We are very fortunate in North Carolina. There are about 36 comprehensive cancer centers in America. We have three of them, which is very unusual. We have Duke, we have Chapel Hill and we have Wake Forest. These cancer centers are the ones where the research is being done. They are the hospitals also, where the major cancer research money is being funneled in. There are other cancer-registered and certified cancer hospitals in the state and in other states that kind of, the information will filter down from these hospitals. And here in Wilmington, the hospital has different clinical trials that are being done under the auspices of Chapel Hill, and through some other areas which we're very lucky to have this hospital. But these hospitals are so busy, and this-- we're trying to help these hospitals and others get this information out. And also, we're trying to get something called a patient navigator, which the Zimmer Cancer Center is very aware of, and they've done a great job with it. But some hospitals do not have patient navigators. A patient navigator is a person, either a professional or a volunteer lay person, who, when a person has been diagnosed with cancer, will immediately take that person and guide them through the system. They will help make appointments for them; they will be there to talk to. Your mother-in-law would have had-- your relative would have had someone to talk to, when-- who would have told her what to expect with her treatment, what side effects she could have. It just makes it easier to go through this. It's not as scary when you have someone like that.

Jones: Tell us more about the Zimmer Center, because it is such an addition to this area. And people feel so secure. I know I did. As I just told you, I knew nothing about it, I've never been inside. But just the fact that it's there, and I guess, now there are some residencies; there is research being done.

Zimmer: There is. Beth Matthews has done an incredible job. She is one of the-- she's the director of the center, and has done such a great job plugging into the different things that are available in North Carolina. The state board is just thrilled with her, because she has been so enthusiastic. She has been so cooperative. She has gone above and beyond to get this hospital involved where other hospitals have kind of fallen by the wayside. So she's gotten more money and more resources than initially even had been planned to give her, because of the excellent work that she's done. And they're doing a great job. They're trying to serve the underserved. They're getting out into the rural areas. She's got people that have set up workshops. They're going out to do screening; breast cancer screening, prostrate screening.

Jones: Is this what's advertised in the newspapers every once in a while, a big page?

Zimmer: In some of these areas where a lot of men, especially, are just embarrassed and don't want to talk about getting screening. And so, what they're doing-- to sending representatives into some of the churches, because this is the area where the men would go and feel more comfortable in these underserved and rural areas. They're sending out mobile screening units to screen some of the women, because if all these cancers could be caught early, they can be treated and cured.

Jones: Well, of course we know that, but I think, too, I've heard my doctor-- who's a wonderful doctor-- say that one of the problems, of course, is some people don't recognize symptoms, and will not go to a doctor. They say "It's age," or "It's this," "It's something I ate."

Zimmer: And one thing I have found, through my years of being either a survivor or dealing with other people in this area: a person needs to be their own advocate. Sometimes, you know your body better than anybody else. And there are some people that can go to the doctor, and the doctors can say, "Well, maybe their symptoms are not the usual symptoms." But if you, if the person truly feels that they're just not right, they need to keep going to doctors until someone will listen to them. You can't necessarily take the first opinion that's given to you. And what we're also trying to do with this group, the state group, is to get the symptoms, the better known symptoms out, so that people can become more familiar with these.

Jones: Well, I'm very happy to see that a lot of this is done, and to hear you talk about it, because I know that I've worked on a volunteer basis with people and listening to them. And the older people particularly, they have no idea that such things, the number two killer, I guess it's a toss at colon cancer, which I've had, and they say it can be prevented if you eat a certain way, or whatever. Well, that may or may not be true, but probably. But it can help.

Zimmer: Right. But the most important thing is screening. Screening and getting-- because they're...

Jones: But, annual check-ups with your doctor.

Zimmer: Right. That's right.

Jones: This is how it was found.

Zimmer: That's right. Well, you were very fortunate.

Jones: Oh, well, yeah, oh, sure. Anyway, oh, I was, yes, but we're not here to talk about that. But it's good, it's marvelous that you and your husband both have been through this, because you can talk to people as this isn't just blab. "I've been there, I feel your feelings," and such. How about children over there? Do you treat children in the Zimmer Center?

Zimmer: Yes, they do treat children. They treat children over there. I have not been as involved with it. I've been more involved with getting the word out and getting that out than...

Jones: How do you do that? How do you, personally, do that?

Zimmer: As I said, I'm involved with these state workshops. And what we're trying to do, is train people from rural areas to go back to their areas, and giving them tools and things that they can do to connect people in their communities with the services that are available. I haven't actually gone out into the rural areas myself. We're trying to get people from the areas to come to our meetings and to come to our different workshops and let them know what's available. And we figured that if we start there, then we can-- it'll, you know, just spread out.

Jones: Let's move on, because that's a subject I guess we could talk about for a while, unless there's something particular you want to add to this about cancer research, about cancer awareness.

Zimmer: I know that what-- I did come back from this Lance Armstrong Summit; we had different speakers there. And as far as cancer, Lance Armstrong, if you forget about his private life and just think about what he's really done for cancer, he is one of the few people that has really united people with all types of cancers. It's very interesting. This is a disease that has so many different facets. Most diseases, you've either got the one disease and that's it. With cancer you've got the breast cancer people, and a lot of times, they had been kind of battling each other. And what he's done is to try to unite...

Jones: I think it's a territorial thing.

Zimmer: It really has been very territorial. He has tried to unite all the different kinds of cancers and bring them together as a force, to try to help get legislation taken care of. Because there are people who, when they are diagnosed with cancer, are dropped from their insurance policies. These are the kinds of things he's trying to legislate-- so this doesn't happen, so that everybody who is diagnosed, is assured of getting treatment. This doesn't happen yet. And so, that was the thing I came away with that is good, and hopefully that will become-- you know that will happen in my lifetime in this country.

Jones: I hope so. That's wonderful work, really and truly. You're a director. Are you now still on the Board of Directors of the Arboretum Foundation?

Zimmer: I am. I am.

Jones: Can you talk about that a little bit, and the Ability Garden?

Zimmer: The Ability Garden has been always close to my heart. I guess, growing up and doing-- working in speech therapy and having a background in exceptional education, I've always had a soft spot for people who have been unable to do things that I like to do, which is gardening. And Phyllis Meole started this wonderful program at the Ability-- with the Ability Garden. It's adapted gardening for people who are unable to physically or mentally do gardening. They have special tools; they have special benches. People in wheelchairs can wheel up to a bench and do their gardening on a table. They don't have to lean over. They've got long-handled tools. It's for people who-- they've had-- it's wonderful, because a lot of these people don't find any success in their lives. But if they can plant something that grows, just the looks on their faces; it's wonderful. And people that have had strokes, or have become physically disabled-- and I know, after I broke my leg and couldn't do things, I could really identify with the folks out there. And it shows people, that as they get older in age, if they have loved gardening, still can garden. They just have to use adapted tools. And it's been very nice. They have now done programs and branched out into the community, and now go out to the Cornelia Nixon Davis area and have special programs there. They've gone to other homes also, and have helped the people in the homes do some gardening.

Jones: I think gardening can be so rewarding. As digging, my kids used to say, "Mom's playing mud pile." But it's just getting back to nature and watching something grow that you have planted.

Zimmer: That's right. It gives you such a good feeling.

Jones: I know.

Zimmer: And a lot of the people that are served by the Ability Garden don't have good feelings, usually, in most of their lives. So this gives them something nice.

Jones: How about the Library Foundation?

Zimmer: The Library Foundation has been very interesting. What we're trying to do, is bring enrichment into the-- bring books, bring programs, bring things-- to the community, that normally the tax dollars don't bring. We bring usually a special author each year that the public can come here. And then we give, we've got an endowed book fund. And right now, David Paynter, who just retired from the library, was, did a wonderful job there. And his passion was for establishing a youth room where we could get some of the younger people who normally don't come to the library, involved. And so we're putting money into that area.

Jones: Getting back to books and away from the tube.

Zimmer: Right. Right.

Jones: The friends of the Cape Fear Museum. These are all things that I have seen grow, and mature, and change for the best since I've lived here, almost 11 years.

Zimmer: Right. They really have. The museum has been wonderful; it has served the community, and now has wonderful science programming for children and for families to come down, because it's now the museum-- it involves a lot more science than it used to, which has been nice.

Jones: I know, that for a number of years, there's been attempts made, and not just talks, but real attempts made to enlarging the museum. And there is space to do it, and to have some permanent collections, that are actually representative of southeastern North Carolina, stay there. And Ruth Haas right now, and before her, of course, Janet Seapker said that it was so difficult to get that. And just like enlarging the library was just like pulling goat's teeth. What do you attribute to the fact that these are finally growing? Do you think it's the influx of people from out of the area?

Zimmer: I think it is. I think it's the influx of people. I think they're coming from areas that had large museums, and they realize how important and wonderful these are for the community. And I think that is helping. It's too bad that right now, where the economic times are the way they are, because a lot of these different organizations, they're having capital campaigns to raise money to increase-- to build buildings and things like that-- are really having to stop a bit, and just wait until things get a little bit better.

Jones: Let me ask your opinion on something, and I've asked a number of people. You're not the only one. You know yourself, probably better than anyone, and in my household, we've seen this. Along around the end of August, first of September, we start getting these "Save the Date," for these galas. And the "Save the Date" cards and the invitations themselves are extremely expensive to do, and all the decorations at these dinner balls, et cetera, et cetera. And they're all for nonprofits. They're all for good works, but they're all expensive, and they're getting more and more expensive. And of course they have to be, to pay the freight for all the invitations and such. I've heard people say, "Pick a couple and stick with them, and forget the rest." But it's difficult to figure out which ones are more important. I'm sure that you're involved in many of these. Is there really a lot of awareness made, or money given, to make it worthwhile, or are these just outlets?

Zimmer: A lot of times, I know from different organizations that I've been involved with and different galas, many times a lot of these costs are underwritten.

Jones: Companies. It's a tax write-off.

Zimmer: Different companies, different companies will donate the money for these, where they'll do that and get advertising for it, have donating for the dinner, donating for the invitations, donating for something. And so the actual expense to the organization, usually, is not that great, and it does-- people at the organization feel that it will do-- it will bring in people. It can educate some of the people about the cause. I agree; there are pros and cons. And I think, as you said, picking several that you really have a passion for, would be the way to go. You're better off strongly supporting a few different areas rather than just spreading yourself too thin.

Jones: They're really all worthwhile, every one of them; just about every one are worthwhile. But it is difficult, and it's become more and more so. And I've heard a number of people discuss, "What are we going to do? I'm just not going to anything," or "I'm just going to stick with one."

Zimmer: Well, I think-- really, I think-- and it depends on the individual. You can't go to everything. Some of them are even on the same night, so it would be difficult. I think, realistically, people really need to just pick. Pick the ones that are the most interesting to them, that have the most meaning, and go with that. And what's nice, is that there is a huge variety of choices out there. I mean, you can support-- you can have your pet dressed up and strut down the runway.

Jones: That's next.

Zimmer: They have galas for, you know, that, and they have something for everybody out there, and I think you just have to pick the ones that you're most interested in. But as far as the organizations that I've been involved with, most of them are the major expenses are underwritten. So it's not coming out of the funds of the organization to do that.

Jones: Well, this is true, this is true; it's just that some of them are just so very, I started to say, "elegant." Some are, some aren't. Talk a little bit about Wilmington, if you wouldn't mind. What have you seen in the way of changes? I know there are lots of them.

Zimmer: Oh, I've seen lots of changes. I've been here since '76. And when I moved here, the major shopping area was downtown on Front Street. Belk's was where the library was. And so I've seen huge changes. I think it's good for an area to change. I think people coming into the area, bringing new ideas, I think the arts have just boomed because of all the influx of people. And in order for the arts to survive, you have to have people going. You got to, have to have an audience. You have to have people going to these different events. I think that's been good for the area. The traffic is horrendous, but that is the least of our problems, I think. I think if you just plan when you're traveling around town, it isn't too bad. I've seen the university has just-- when I first came, they had a few buildings. When I went to classes here, which would have been in the '80s, our music classes were in Kenan. Dr. Martin was my mentor. She was my music history professor and my piano professor. I think the university has been such an asset to this community, bringing in the minds, and the educators. And the professors that are here now, have been such an addition to this community.

Jones: That's true. And even in the short time I've been here and associated with the university, it's when we lived in the Washington area, there were some kids who would come down, people would come down, and they'd say, "It's UNC by the sea. It's a beach school. It's a party school." But I'm very happy to see that they have now higher education disciplines for the Masters, and are continuing to get some more, and then PhDs are coming along.

Zimmer: Which is wonderful.

Jones: Absolutely. Gives it a lot of credit. You're involved, what are your favorites? I can't ask you that because that's going to put you on the line. Your favorites, but there are so many things, no one human being can do all of these at one time and still go to bed at night.

Zimmer: Well, they're not all at one time.

Jones: No, of course not.

Zimmer: Some of them are in the past.

Jones: What are you proudest of, besides raising two good boys?

Zimmer: That's what I'm proudest of. That's what I'm proudest of. All these other-- I'm proud of different things in different organizations, and I'd hate to just go into one because I'm sure I'd forget others. But my proudest accomplishment is raising two decent human beings. [laughs]

Jones: Right; I just want to ask you, you don't have a lot of grey.

Zimmer: No, I do not.

Jones: How are you past president of the New Hanover Bar Auxiliary?

Zimmer: Auxiliary, that was the spouse. And back then, maybe, they had one woman attorney. So all the women belonged to the auxiliary. Well, now, I don't even think the auxiliary exists anymore. But I did that because my husband was an attorney, and not-- I live in a house with three trained arguers. They are all trained and arguing.

Jones: Now is it true that living with an attorney if you ask an opinion, like, "What do you want for dinner?" they have to stop and think and deliberate for a few minutes?

Zimmer: Yes, that is true. And I have three of them that do that, when we're all together.

Jones: Oh, my gosh. Oh, honestly. Well, aside from that, name just a couple of things that you really feel a passion for and that you've made that have been kind of pet things.

Zimmer: I think the Children's Museum was very special. I was president of the board when we were getting that done, and it has evolved into a good thing. Everything's going well down there, and things are on the right track. Things are on the right track down there. I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the cancer survivorship issues that we are spreading the word on in North Carolina. And the Ability Garden always has been very special to me, too. I'm very proud that was able to move along.

Jones: What do you think of Wilmington today? Where do you see it going over the next ten years? Because this is based on what we've seen happen the last ten years.

Zimmer: I think it's only going to get better. I think it's such a special place. And it's such a wonderful place to live that I think people will continue to move here. Hopefully the things will be planned well, and-- but I don't think you can have too many people in an area; I really don't. Because I think all these people bring in something special. I think if you eliminated a lot of them, you'd be eliminating a lot of the good things that were brought to Wilmington.

Jones: I've heard, I saw on the front page of the paper today, where taller buildings are going to be allowed. But I think, too, that some of the natives, as they say, have thought, "Well, I really miss the old days. I miss the sleepy little town. I miss the front porch sociability." And I can understand that. I really can, because that was a charm. That was the South. But what amazes me are the number of representatives of the old families that say, "I love it. I love it." And my husband is one of them. He works very actively in preserving history and trying to get them to do all kinds of things. They must think he's crazy at city hall. But aside from this, somebody said, "I envision Wilmington not growing much more, because there's not a whole lot more land for these people to live on, but to enlarge Brunswick County, whatever. And Wilmington will be the jewel in the center. It's where you come to be educated, to be entertained, for fine dining, for the theater." Do you agree with this?

Zimmer: I do agree with it. I think people will come into the area, but I agree. I think that with all these developments in the outlying counties, that people seem to gravitate towards Wilmington for the culture, which is good. And the more of them that come, the more audiences, the more different concerts and theater productions we'll be able to have, because they'll be supported. But I do want to preserve the historic buildings. I would hate to see them tear down the Cotton Exchange and these buildings. I mean that's part of our history and that would be sad to do. That...

Jones: Yeah, even Chandler's Wharf. We talked to people the other day and said, "Why are you doing this?" He said, "This is ours and we can do what we want."

Zimmer: That's a shame. That would be tragic.

Jones: And I'm thinking, "But, why?" You know, why?

Zimmer: That really is such a lovely part of downtown.

Jones: They're nice people. I'm thinking, "Why are you doing this?"

Zimmer: I agree with you on that. That would be too bad. I would like to keep the downtown-- because that's part of the charm of the area, the historic area.

Jones: I think the Riverwalk has added a great deal.

Zimmer: I do, too.

Jones: And it is true, I wish they'd put a marker up where the slave quarters were, when the boats would come in to load up cotton. Well, there you go. It's the way it is. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us today that you feel is educational, or noteworthy, or of interest to those people who are going to view this tape, and they will, that we haven't talked about? There's so much, we can't go over absolutely everything I know of.

Zimmer: I think you've covered most of it very well. I think we've gone over most of the areas that are of interest to me. I just think it's wonderful that you're doing this. And I think it's an interesting concept to talk to different people in the community and see what their ideas are.

Jones: Both the older families and the new ones who've come here. It is gratifying, as I said, to hear these people with their enthusiasm and what they can do with their time. And there is an untapped pool of talent out there. I plan to catch hold of most of them. Anyway, well thank you so much for taking time out to visit with us and to share with us.

Zimmer: I appreciate it. Thank you.

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