Text and Photos
By Deb Patterson
Originally referred to as the Johnson Bay East Preserve, the property owned by Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation was dedicated Wednesday, Sept. 25, as the Zimmerman Preserve in appreciation of the generous support of Chuck and Nancy Zimmerman. The property was renamed in honor of Chuck Zimmerman’s grandparents, John and Marie Zimmerman.
The property is located at the corner of East Wawasee Drive and Black Point Road on the east side of Lake Wawasee.
The 41 acres with 18 acres of wetlands was purchased from Robert and Deb Pilcher in 2018. The Pilchers had purchased the property from the Zimmerman family following the death of Marie Zimmerman in 1975. John and Marie Zimmerman had owned the property since 1941. The original farmhouse, which was sold separately, still stands and the foundations for the farm buildings can still be found on the property.
Chuck Zimmerman, who with his wife Nancy now live in Blue Ridge, Ga., said he likes the name Zimmerman Preserve as it captures a variety of areas including the upland and wetlands habitat that serve as an important ecosystem harboring a large diversity of plants and animals. “There is good diversity and a lot of habitat for different critters, that (the word) preserve fits very well.”
The sign at the property provides a brief history of the property and displays a photo of the Zimmerman farm as it was in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Zimmerman noted the pond is still there and still has water in it. “Looking back on it growing up here, it formed the foundation for my vocation in my studies of biology and environmental sciences after coming here from Chicago.”
Zimmerman moved to the area with his paternal grandparents in late September 1946. “I seemed to fit in very well and quickly roamed around on the land, getting my feet wet on the edge of the wetlands and finding out all about that. Of course many years later appreciated what the wetlands were and functions in the eco system. That really served as my foundation for later studies … I think its fitting and appreciate the conservancy has this land. Now it will be here for perpetuity and be in good hands.”
His grandparents came from Austria in 1905 and settled in Chicago with many of their kinfolks and friends and eventually settled at Lake Wawasee in 1941. They purchased the property from Dow Crow. “How they choose this place, I don’t know, but they both came from rural areas in Austria so I expect they were ready to leave Chicago.”
He spent his youth at the farm, joining 4-H and graduating from Syracuse High School in 1956. He joined the Navy and served for six years in aviation electronics. Following his time in the Navy, he went to Indiana University earning biology degrees. He taught at IU for several years in the areas of biology and ornithology. Following that he spent some time with the Department of Interior in South Dakota before joining the private industry in environmental consulting.
“I’m still a part of the community,” he said after the dedication. He and his wife are members of Iroquois Valley Farms, a farmland finance company involved in sustainable agriculture. He noted there are a number of farms within a 20-mile radius of the property. “I feel a part of the community through the farms and location. I do come up here three or four times a year.” His cousin, Jack Zimmerman and wife Diane, live at Lake Wawasee and their son, Lance, also resides in the Syracuse area.
Zimmerman concluded saying “My paternal grandparents, John and Marie, rest in a cemetery in Ligonier. I feel they are a part of this through their spirit. I feel that they are acknowledging these activities here as we gather and speak.”
During the dedication Tom Yoder, chairman of WACF land acquisition, briefly spoke about the importance of protecting the wetlands and the importance of the property. He noted it was 15 to 16 years ago Chuck Zimmerman contacted him noting a shared interest in preserving the property and the two worked together to get the property purchased. Yoder noted Dillon Creek, one of the major tributaries to Lake Wawasee, used to flow across the property into Johnson’s Bay and the Johnson’s Bay wetlands.
WACF invested in the property to preserve the wetlands and best protect the watershed. Over the years, many wetlands along the nearby lakeshores have been filled or drained. With the acquisition, WACF will safeguard and improve the Zimmerman Preserve to enhance its purpose as a much-needed final filter, helping to stop unwanted nutrients from entering the lake.
Chris Roberts, WACF chairman, stated while he could not speak to the emotional attachment the Zimmermans have to the property, he can speak to the emotional attachment most have to places they grew up in, loved and spent time. “WACF plans to carry forth that spirit today on behalf of the Zimmermans in perpetuity, so it remains as it is and was, with the added value to be able to help preserve the area so many other people consider their happy place in the world – Lake Wawasee and the watershed.”
A number of WACF board members were present for the dedication along with John Searfoss and Ann Brazel, long time friends of Chuck Zimmerman.