Rev. Dr. Paul Zimmerman, former college president, dies

Longtime educator — and president of three LCMS colleges — Rev. Dr. Paul A. Zimmerman of Traverse City, Mich., died Jan. 28 after a brief illness. He was 95.



Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home in Traverse City, and for an hour prior to the 11 a.m. funeral service on Friday, Jan. 31, at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Traverse City.

Zimmerman, a professor of religion and chemistry, also served as president of Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University, Nebraska) in Seward, Neb. (1954-61); Concordia Junior College (now Concordia University), Ann Arbor, Mich. (1961-73); and Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University Chicago), River Forest, Ill. (1973-83).

During his tenure at Concordia, Ann Arbor — where, as founding president, he was charged with the responsibility of building the campus, faculty and student body — Zimmerman served as chairman of the Fact Finding Committee (1970-73) appointed by then-LCMS President Rev. Dr. J.A.O. Preus. That committee was responsible for investigating charges of “false teaching” at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, at that time.

Zimmerman served as a special assistant to LCMS President Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry in 1995 and 1996, and was chairman of the Synod’s mission board from 1982 to 1992. In an interview for The Lutheran Witness in 1989, Zimmerman said laypeople can support the Synod’s mission three ways: “Number one is to be more aware in your heart about what Jesus wants you to do for the Great Commission. Number two is to pray. And number three is to work. And you can work [by] becoming an evangelist in your own community or supporting financially the mission work of the Synod.” But, he added, “If you don’t do number one, you won’t do number two or three.”

His 40 years of service to the church included an early call to Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn., where he was a professor and served as dean of students.

Zimmerman served part time during his educational career as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Janesville, Minn.; St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Neb.; and, after his 1983 retirement, at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Harrison, Mich. After relocating to Traverse City, he continued to serve vacancies, when needed, at local congregations.

He also served on LCMS convention floor committees, as a convention essayist, a conference presenter and a consultant on education and accreditation issues. An editor and author, he frequently wrote devotions for Portals of Prayer — his final set of devotions is scheduled for publication later this year.

Zimmerman was a 1944 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and held a master’s degree in education as well as a doctorate in chemistry — both from the University of Illinois, Urbana.

He also was the recipient of two honorary degrees — a Doctor of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, then in Springfield, Ill., in 1975 and a Doctor of Laws from Concordia College (now University), Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1993 — and two awards: the Christus Primus from Concordia, Ann Arbor, and the “Distinguished Alumnus” from Concordia Seminary.

Zimmerman “was a really wonderful brother in Christ, had a great faith and supported the church of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. James Nihiser, pastor of St. Michael, Zimmerman’s congregation in Traverse City. Nihiser told Reporter that while visiting Zimmerman a couple weeks before his death, the elder pastor “offered some real nice personal words of support for me in my office as pastor. He was just someone who really loved the Lord — and he lived that out, too.”

Zimmerman, Nihiser added, “really was a giant in the history of the Missouri Synod” and “it’s amazing” that “he ends up at this little church in Traverse City, and I end up having the privilege of knowing him. It’s going to take all eternity to thank the Lord for that one.”

Noting that Zimmerman “was our founding president at Concordia, Ann Arbor,” Rev. Dr. Patrick Ferry said that as part of the recent 50th anniversary celebration of the school’s beginning, “President Zimmerman reflected on the early days and rejoiced at Concordia’s continued ministry in Lutheran higher education. We are grateful for the vision, courage and faith that he demonstrated for CUAA and throughout his ministry.” Ferry is president of Concordia, Ann Arbor, and Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon.

Zimmerman’s family issued this statement: “Paul Zimmerman was a faithful and dedicated man of God. He fervently supported the spread of the Gospel and the education of the young through Lutheran education. He dedicated his life to serving His Lord Jesus Christ as a pastor, teacher, author and a faithful, ardent confessor of the Word of God. We in his family give thanks to the Lord … for the many things He permitted Paul to do in service to the LCMS, and most especially for having called Paul as His own in Holy Baptism. To God be the glory!”

Zimmerman’s wife, Genevieve, died in 2010.

Survivors include two children — Karmin J. (Raymond) Philp of Traverse City and the Rev. Thomas P. (Marsha) Zimmerman of Fort Wayne, Ind.; five grandchildren — the Rev. Dr. Paul A. (Sharon) Philp of St. Louis; the Rev. Luke T. Zimmerman of Mechanicsburg (Pa.), Mark A. Zimmerman of New Glarus (Wis.), Kristin R. (Steven) Carroll of Motherwell (North Lanarkshire, Scotland) and John M. Zimmerman of Fort Wayne; and five great-grandchildren.

Memorials may be sent to the Synod’s Global Mission Fund or to Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.

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12 Responses to Rev. Dr. Paul Zimmerman, former college president, dies

  1. January 30, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Dr. Zimmerman was also the first Spiritual Counselor for Concordia Deaconess Conference (CDC) in 1980. He gave sound advice to the women who campaigned for an LCMS deaconess training program and met with the CDC founding members afterward, helping them to establish the deaconess conference for confessional Lutheran deaconesses.

  2. January 30, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    It was a privilege to serve with Dr. Zimmerman at River Forest for ten years. When he called to ask if I would come to RF to serve as his assistant my reply was immediate: “I’m not interested.” My interest was continuing to serve a mission congregation I had the privilege to start. His response was: “I didn’t ask you for a decision, I asked you for an interview.” It was his ability to cut to the quick that was certainly a hallmark of his decisive and capable leadership. When I understood his commitment to educational excellence and theological commitment, I changed my mind. They were difficult days but PAZ did not waver in his Scriptural-based leadership. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! Yes, says the Spirit, let them rest from their hard work, for what they have done accompanies them.” Rev. 14:13

  3. Dr. Rachel Palmer January 30, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    I was blessed to know Dr. Zimmerman as a student at Concordia, Ann Arbor and the first graduate to serve on the faculty. Dr. Zimmerman was a strong leader and faithful servant. What a blessing he was to so many.

  4. Rev. John W. M. Struve January 30, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    In 1974 Dr. Zimmermann became president of Concordia Teacher’s College in River Forest, Illinois, and I became the Sr. Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Summit, Illinois. We sat next to each other during the orientation sessions for new pastors in the Northern Illinois District simply because his last name started with a “Z” and mine started with an “S.” There were no “T’s, U’s or V’s” entering the district. I was a new graduate from the St. Louis Seminary and he was an icon in the synod because of his previous three college presidencies and many other accomplishments and services by God’s grace. Immediately he introduced himself in a very open and friendly way, insisted that I call him, Paul, and from that day forward took me under his wing. My wife and I dined at his home several times and he and his beloved Jen, dined with Marge and me at our home as well. We often spoke on the phone, especially in the earlier 20 years of my ministry and we always went out of our ways to greet each other at synodical gatherings. Paul had a wonderful way of welcoming others into his world and continually witnessed to our Savior Jesus Christ and how He reveals Himself in His inerrant Word and Sacraments. Our Lord used him in many powerful ways to spread the Gospel throughout the world. He also used him to make simple, new pastors like me, feel as if what we were doing was important in God’s scheme of ministering to all of His children. He always spoke the truth in love, put the best construction on everything and Gave God the glory for it all.

  5. Douglas Noel January 30, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I had the honor of being a student under Dr. Zimmerman at CTCRF, now CUC. He was solidly conservative and strictly biblical. He was a man of great insight and insisted on the highest integrity of himself and others around him. My life was changed by knowing him and my love of the study of scriptures was intensified.

  6. Donald J Mossman, M.Div., Ph.D. January 30, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    There are very few giants that I have been fortunate to rub shoulders with and to sit at their feet and learn, to serve with at CUAA. Paul Zimmerman was one of them. Since then much water has run under the bridge, but my friend Paul remained a beacon of light amid our struggling culture and at times our church. Praise be to God for his gift of Paul to so many of us educators, students and our much loved LCMS.

  7. January 30, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    The Lord has called home one of the heros of the faith in the LCMS. I knew Dr. Zimmerman at both Concordia Ann Arbor and River Forest, and he was an amazing and inspiring Christian pastor, professor and college president. He set the standard for me as a future pastor to be humble, faithful and dedicated to Holy Scripture, to our Lutheran Confessions and to the loving care of the people entrusted to us. I am happy for him that he is now with the Lord, but also am sad because we no longer will have his wise counsel and guidance among us.

  8. Deaconess Nancy Nemoyer January 31, 2014 at 6:06 am #

    Dr. Paul A. Zimmerman served the church is so many big ways, but I will always remember him for the vision he had for the advancement of Deaconess service in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He and his dear wife Genevieve welcomed a handful of deaconesses in the late 1970’s, who sought guidance on the proper steps to take to explore the possibility of Deaconess training within the Synodical school system. When later the Synod in convention voted to establish the first such program at Concordia, River Forest, where Dr. Zimmerman was the president, he lent his invaluable wisdom to the crafting of program foundations that stand to this day.

    I well remember the phone call interrupting my regular work as a Deaconess at the Lutheran Home in Fort Wayne. Unbelievably, my supervisor Deaconess Joyce Ostermann, called me out of a conference with a family regarding a prospective resident. “Dr. Zimmerman from River Forest is on the phone.” I was terrified to speak with a man of his status in the Church. He asked if I would consider being the first Director of the Deaconess Program. No, I didn’t think so. He called repeatedly in subsequent days, until I consented to interview with the Academic Dean, Dr. Rudy Block and others. It was a privilege to serve there with him and others for the next 10 years.

    I was a young program director. Later as I looked back on the years I silently hoped that I hadn’t let him down. That fear was fully laid to rest when at the 25th Anniversary of the Concordia Deaconess Program and of the CDC, Dr. and Mrs. Zimmerman and myself were among the invited guests. After I had said my few obligatory comments and returned to my seat, he leaned over and said, “I never doubted that the Lord led us to call the right woman to start up that program.” There are only 2 reasons that I was the right woman, because the Lord directed that path and Paul Zimmeman gave it form. I was instructed to ask Charlotte, his trusted secretary, for admittance anytime I needed it. I didn’t over use that privilege, but when I needed, he gave me a listening. ear,posed thoughtful questions, then slid his glasses down his nose in that way he had and as though on level ground gave wise guidance grounded in Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.

    We in the LCMS, and especially the Deaconesses, thank the Lord for the life and ministry of Dr. Paul A Zimmerman and his faithful wife, Genevieve, who supported him through his journey of faith while here below and now he joins her and the saints above. Be comforted, for blessed are they who die in the Lord.

  9. Janice K.Wurm, Lutheran Teacher, Retired January 31, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    My first encounter with Dr. Zimmerman was as a student at Concordia, Seward, and then
    when he and Pastor Jack Struve,(whose response preceeds this) assisted and supported me in the four year battle (1972-76) to keep St.John the Divine, Chicago, IL in the LCMS.
    I gained personal strength and assurance with one or both of these men of God sitting beside me and giving counsel. Dr. Zimmerman’s actual presence, debating Pres. Hecht of the English District, was so courageous, brilliant and powerful that those present in the sanctuary of the church couldn’t help but believe in his Biblical conviction and faithful testimony. This is what was said of his namesake, St. Paul the Apostle when he spoke the Word of God. I still have the original tape and transcript of the debate as St. John the Divine remains in the LCMS. The church was recently pictured on Chicago TV with a story telling of the organist’s tollway death in a snowstorm. Through the years my husband, Bill – a retired Lutheran pastor, and I have kept up correspondence. It is an honor to have our lives touched by such faithfulness to Christ and witness of salvation through God’s Inerrant Word. Dr. Zimmerman truly “follows in the train of saints” in their eternal home. We praise the Lord for giving us such a “Soldier of the Cross”. As King David says in Ps. 66:3, “Say to God, How awesome are Your deeds! So great is Your power that Your enemies cringe before You. All the earth bows down to You; they sing praise to You, they sing praise to Your name.” The Holy Spirit made this happen through His instrument, vessel, servant, and child, Dr. Paul A. Zimmerman. To God be the Glory!

  10. Rev. Don Engebretson January 31, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    I had the distinct privilege of being Dr. Zimmerman’s pastor for about 5 years when I served Trinity Lutheran – Traverse City, Michigan (’96-’00). During the initial vacancy, when the previous senior pastor accepted a call to the seminary, Dr. Zimmerman assisted me by preaching once a month, even during the time he was busy commuting down to St. Louis to advise President Barry. Even though he had effectively led three of our Concordias, and had the opportunity in his later years to rest, he continued to offer his assistance time and again, serving on committees, heading up the Sunday School, preaching, always making a point to be an active member of the parish. When I finally left Trinity to accept another call, he graciously assumed responsibility for the vacancy in my absence. His servant attitude is the one attribute that stands out for me above all others. He was at heart a pastor.

  11. Erich A. von Fange February 1, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    We send our deepest sympathies and love in Christ to the families of Dr. Paul A. Zimmerman who is now in the arms of his God and Savior.
    I first met Dr. Zimmerman in the late 1950’s when he was President of Concordia Seward, and I came down from Concordia Edmonton to teach some summer school classes there. Some years later, when he was called to head the new Concordia, Ann Arbor, I had the wonderful privilege as Academic Dean, of helping Dr. Zimmerman transform the Erhard estate into the Christ-centered Concordia University now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
    We had just one year, with the help of our first faculty and staff, to plan the curriculum, recruit a faculty, write the catalog, begin the faculty and student handbooks, equip and furnish the classrooms and dormitories, set up our bookstore, plan athletic program, check new building details, visit congregations and schools, and an endless host of other important matters. . . . Dr. Zimmerman was a giant in all this Christ-centered activity.

  12. Quentin Marino February 4, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Quentin Marino..Emeritus 1994

    In 1968 I received a call to Concordia, Ann Arbor, MI for a position in the music Dept. After teaching at Concordia, Seward for eleven years in the high school music dept. I accepted the call from Dr. Paul Zimmerman/ Concordia, Ann Arbor. As young ‘Lutherans’ my wife and I were received into the Concordia faculty and this christian community very graciously.
    We have always felt that Paul had a great influence in that reception.
    He impressed us by the fact that he was truly a ‘Servant of God!’ In the time I served under Paul as president of Concordia I observed and appreciated the close relationship Dr. Zimmerman had with Concordia’s faculty. After he moved on to other responsibilities I still maintained a personal, thought professional relationship’ with him and his wife. Many time I had observed him intervening on behalf of the faculty within the Ann Arbor community. Carol and I had an handicapped son and he was instrumental in us getting proper medical attention.
    He served our church, set an example for other pastors and was again…a ‘dedicated hard working servant!’
    May God Bless his family at this time of their loss!

    In Christ,
    Quentin Marino

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