Robert P. Zimmerer (1930-), Professor of Biology
Robert P. Zimmerer was raised and educated in Wausau, Wisconsin, a town known for forest products and freezing winters. After high school Zimmerer enrolled in the botany program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1948. His draft number came up during his third year, forcing him to exchange his college duds for army khaki. It wasn’t all bad news: Zimmerer was stationed in the storybook city of Heidelberg, Germany, for his stint in the army, and there he received intensive training in medical microbiological technology.
After his discharge, Zimmerer finished his B.S. degree at the University of Wisconsin with a concentration In plant physiology. Then he said goodbye to academia for several years, holding down a series of administrative and research positions with chemical, agricultural, and paper products companies in California and Wisconsin. It was in San Francisco that he met Mary McLean, then an employee of the Federal Reserve Bank, and they were married in 1956.
Zimmerer earned an M.S. degree from Cornell in plant physiology and biochemistry, finishing in 1961. Married, and with children on the way, he began his search for a long-term career path. By chance a fellow student at Cornell tipped him off to a vacancy in the biology department at Juniata College. A successful interview with John Comerford and Ken Rockwell followed, and he joined the Juniata faculty in 1961. In the early years Zimmerer taught primarily botany courses, as well as a highly popular course in microbiology. Drawing on his background in medical microbiology, he emphasized the medical aspects of the subject, in view of the interests of his students and the lucrative place the field held in the job market. He gradually moved from botany into mainstream cell biology and microbiology, especially after receiving his Ph.D. degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1966. He also taught a hands-on course in electron microscopy, using an electron microscope ¾one of the first in small liberal arts colleges ¾ that he helped to procure for the biology department.
Zimmerer juggled many interests: experimenting; with student help, plant tissue cultures in the laboratory; collaborating with personnel at J. C. Blair Hospital in microbiology and infection control procedures; hosting a series of distinguished biologist guest lecturers with funds allocated by the Grass Foundation; serving as the chair of the biology department; publishing research; sitting on the Peace and Conflict Committee; and participating in many other college and civic activities. And then there was student advising: other members of the biology department noted the long pre-registration lines forming outside his office, as Zimmerer patiently counseled each of his yearly quota of sixty or seventy advisees in the art of constructing a Program of Emphasis appropriate to that student’s interests and goals.
Reflecting on his career at Juniata, Zimmerer mentioned that his proudest accomplishment was to mount, with much input of time and effort, the allied health program that has been a benchmark program for many years. In order to arrange affiliations with hospitals and schools of osteopathy, dentistry, podiatry, medical technology and other health-related programs, Zimmerer spent many hours on the road to confer with administrative officers of various institutions, hammering out the details by which Juniata students could gain early or preferred admission. He created and chaired the Health Professions Committee to streamline and expedite the application process by Juniata students, and the committee has had outstanding success in opening career doors for the students.
Robert Zimmerer received the Beachley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985 and was honored as the Dana Supported Professor of Biology. He retired in 1993 and still lives in Huntingdon, where he is active in several civic organizations. He and his wife Mary have three grown children, Kay, Carolyn, and William.
James Gooch, Emeritus Professor of Biology
Information based on an interview with the author.