A photograph hangs in the entrance of the music and theatre building depicting a man sitting on a bench outside. As students and faculty begin to gather around the photo near the entrance, a woman approaches with the man from the photo. As he enters the building, smiles erupt all around as his gaze scans the room, landing on the photo. A fond smile spreads from ear to ear.
“Excuse me for not standing,” was the first thing 90-year-old George Zimmerman said from his wheelchair. The second: “Is that my drum?”
Zimmerman retired in 1994 after 52 years of teaching music. He spent five years at Ohio State and Miami University before spending 30 years teaching music in Dayton public schools. He finished his long-time teaching run at UD after 12 years.
“It’s good to be back,” said Zimmerman. “I can’t relate as well to the campus anymore because the landscape is different and the buildings are new. But I can tell that it won’t be long until they need to cut the grass again.”
Zimmerman fondly recalls his time at UD, remembering his own local television show where he would cook and discuss tidbits of his life, as well as the annual Christmas concert that proved so popular, Zimmerman found himself in attendance even after retirement.
“I spent 16 years sitting in Boll Theatre for Christmas sing-a-longs,” said Zimmerman with a chuckle. “One of our biggest turnouts was when we had 800 people for each of the two shows in the same night. I was exhausted.”
Students and faculty followed him as he visited his old classroom, his face bright-eyed and full of memories.
“I wanted to see this room,” he said. “When I taught, I had no textbooks. I had to go from myself. I had to write my own music and books. And I admired the students. How they got themselves involved. There is so much that I didn’t know then that I know now. And I don’t have a class!”
The students surrounding him, hoping to gain his wisdom, began to depart for their morning classes; faculty forlornly glanced at their watches, soon needing to head to class, or their office or a committee meeting. In the hopes of teaching one more lesson, Zimmerman addressed everyone in his old classroom.
“It’s important to collect everything,” he said. “It’s important to travel. To go. Take every minute; move all the time. And always, always be learning.”
And with that last bit of knowledge, Zimmerman placed his hands above the room’s piano keys for the first time in 19 years and played out his students, new and old, to the tune of “Danny Boy.”