William "Bill" J. Zimmer
July 18, 1920 – July 7, 2019
William Zimmer, immigrant, engineer, husband, and father of seven, died on July 7, 2019, at the age of 98. "Wilhelm" was born in a village near Bonn, Germany, on July 18, 1920, to Josef Zimmer, a mason and musician, and Emma Rendler, a nurse. Leaving the chaos of post-WWI Germany, his family emigrated to the US when he was five, arriving in New York aboard the USS Cleveland. With his parents and younger brother Karl, "Bill" settled into an enclave of German immigrants in Brooklyn, NY. There he rapidly assimilated, learning to speak and write flawless English while maintaining his fluency in German at home. His brother Josef, born with Down syndrome, arrived in 1935. Bill grew up in a strict immigrant household leavened by music, singing, beermaking, and gardening. As a boy, he shined shoes on the subways, sold pretzels on the sidewalks, and crawled through attic crevices to string the first electric wires in tenements on the Lower East Side -- his first jobs in a long life of work. Bill learned violin from a Russian master musician who was exiled in the US, and he ultimately performed in small symphonies and at the 1939 World’s Fair. Well into his nineties, he could pick up the instrument and astonish listeners with his ability. Bill attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where he developed his natural mechanical aptitude and learned many practical skills.
In WWII, he served in the US Navy as a radio electronics instructor. After his honorable discharge from the military in 1946, he developed avionics and electro-optic systems for the Kollsman Instrument company while studying at night for his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the NY Polytechnic University of Engineering. During those years he developed passions for skiing, hiking, camping, sailing, and travel -- all of which he shared with his wife and passed along to his children. Bill’s work with Kollsman led to travel to Europe. In Paris, after a relentless pursuit lasting for many years, US Air Force flight nurse Vicky Feuerherd finally succumbed to his third proposal/ultimatum for marriage, and the two were married on Nov. 27, 1954. Every year for the next four years brought a new baby, and after ten years Bill and Vicky had a full quiver of seven. In their suburban home outside of Boston, MA, Bill lorded over the pandemonium. The couple created a household in constant tension between Bill’s quest for order and planning and Vicky’s love of spontaneity. They also modeled a life of loyalty, hard work, and high expectations. Bill and Vicky enjoyed the TV show All in the Family, which was interesting, given that the two could have been stand-ins for Archie and Edith Bunker. Frugal and practical, Bill loved to build and repair things. He constructed much of the family’s furniture. He built a sailing dinghy named for his wife Victoria; in the “Tory Dory” he taught his children and grandchildren to sail in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine, where the family has reunited every summer for 50 years.
Bill enjoyed his long and varied career with the MITRE Corporation, where he served as associate technical director, and, later, director of operations. He earned his master’s degree in engineering management from Northeastern University, once again by attending classes at night. He was involved in the development of early computers for the US Navy. At the Johnson Space Center in Texas he worked on communications for NASA’s Apollo space program. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio he worked on drone development for the US Air Force. His work eventually led him and his family back to New England. Frugal yet practical, Bill helped organize a garden at MITRE for employees. His children recall baseball-bat-size squash and green beans tough enough to carve with a steak knife. After 30 years with MITRE, Bill retired in 1988 and moved with Vicky to Cape Cod. There the robust pace continued – volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, choral singing, taking college courses, clam-digging, kayak-building, ballroom dancing, bicycling, hiking, and driving for the senior center (until they found out how old he was and made him stop). He and Vicky enjoyed travels around the country and the world to visit their far-flung children and grandchildren. Always careful with his money, Bill took advantage of the fact that most ski areas offered free skiing for those over seventy. After Vicky’s death, Bill moved to Reeds Landing, a retirement community in Springfield, MA, so he could be closer to his daughters. There, he could be found early in the morning working out in the gym (even into the last year of his life), working on wood carvings, watering his garden, singing in choruses, walking the grounds, organizing and attending community events, or exploring western New England with his family. Bill travelled the world as late as the age of 97, when he visited his son Paul in Abu Dhabi. His excellent health continued until his last few years, when gradually developing problems forced him to (reluctantly) stop driving and to move into assisted living. In March of 2019 he moved to the Fisher Hospice in Amherst, MA. There he spent the contented last months of his life surrounded by caring, attentive staff and residents, with frequent visitors. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by family and friends. As a survivor of challenging times, Bill knew the value of hard work, and afterwards, relaxing with a beer, bratwurst, and good conversation. He exhibited steady curiosity about people and the world. He dispensed lots of advice (and some of it was even good). Although he could be perceived as demanding and single-minded at times, his high expectations of family and employees motivated them to achieve more. He joins his wife, Victoria Feuerherd, his two sons, Bill and Rick, and his brothers Karl and Josef, who preceded him in death. He is survived by his children Meg, an educator, of Somers, CT; Barb, a nurse anesthetist, of Driggs, ID; Paul, a physician for the US Dept. of State, currently posted in Senegal; Jean, a writer and editor, of Northampton, MA; Cathy, a physical therapist, of Aspen, CO; and 12 grandchildren. His son Bill was an architect, and Rick was an airline pilot. A memorial service and celebration will be held at Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville, MA, at 10 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2019. Bill always liked a party. Bill’s family is grateful to the Fisher Home hospice in Amherst for the remarkable care he received in his last months. In lieu of flowers, Bill’s family requests that gifts in his memory be directed to the Hospice of the Fisher Home, in Amherst, MA, or Habitat for Humanity.
No services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
William "Bill" J. Zimmer
August 1, 2019
Thank you very much for Bill's life story, especially in his retirement years. I worked for Bill in the 60's at MITRE on the SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic Missals) Project. I remember well his kindness and understanding and am not at all surprised at the magnitude of his accomplishments through the years. My condolences to the family. He surely lived many years providing you with good memories. Anne Melly Doherty