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Dr. Edward J. Zimmermann Jr., 91, Canisius College professor saved church records

Aug. 15, 1928 — Oct. 15, 2019

Most people today know Edward J. Zimmermann Jr. as a professor of English for three decades at Canisius College.

But his legacy will survive beyond his teaching days. Generations of genealogists will benefit from his work in saving priceless church records from oblivion.

In 1979, while searching for his own family history in St. Louis Church, Dr. Zimmermann told the Western New York Catholic newspaper in 1986, "Some of the record books were missing and some of them had pages razored out."

Realizing that the fragile church records were the only documentation of births, marriages and deaths before municipalities began collecting vital records in the late 1800s, Dr. Zimmermann proposed a plan to microfilm the records of six city churches. The pilot program grew to include all Erie County churches and then all in Western New York that wished to participate.

The records were shared with the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo History Museum and the Diocese of Buffalo. Canisius College retained the originals, which continue to be heavily used.

Dr. Zimmermann died Oct. 15, 2019, in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital after a short illness. The Depew resident was 91.

He was born in Buffalo, the first of seven children of Dr. Edward J. and Margaret Gittere Zimmermann. His father was a physician and the family lived in the Central Park area.

Dr. Zimmermann graduated from St. Mark's Elementary School and was a member of the class of 1946 of Canisius High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in business and philosophy from Canisius College in 1950.

That year, he enlisted in the Air Force, serving in Darmstadt, Germany, as a staff sergeant and radio intercept officer for the security service. He was discharged in February of 1954 with a National Defense Service Medal, Occupational Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

In 1951, he married Patricia McCue, and in 1965, the family, which eventually included seven children, moved from Tonawanda to Four Rod Road in Alden.

Dr. Zimmermann returned to Canisius on the GI Bill, earning a master's degree in education in 1957 and a master's degree in English in 1965.

He taught at Canisius High School from 1958 to 1965, when he was hired as an instructor at Canisius College. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1967, then became a professor after earning his doctorate in 1970 in English from the University at Buffalo.

At Canisius, he served as chair of the English Department from 1970 to 1974, and was director of the English Honors Program and adviser to the student literary magazine, Quadrangle. He was also a member of the college’s Social Justice Advisory Council and the first moderator of the Afro-American Society, established in 1968.

In a statement, Canisius College President John J. Hurley wrote that as president of the faculty union, Dr. Zimmermann "facilitated a meaningful dialogue between the faculty and administration," and was influential in the 1968 establishment of the Faculty Senate, serving as secretary.

"Ed radiated the well-rounded luster of the Renaissance man," Hurley wrote. "In addition to his erudition of virtually all English literature, and particularly that of John Milton, he was evenly knowledgeable about the German language, American folklore, Irish music and Canadian ale."

"As a student, I had the personal good fortune of sharing Ed’s company at Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in November 1975," wrote Hurley.

A longtime member of the Modern Language Association, Dr. Zimmermann also was an expert on lyric poetry. He was project director of the Media Studies Program in 1977, the same year he was cited for "innovative and dynamic teaching."

In 1995, he was named Teacher of the Year by the Alpha Omicron Pi Nu Delta Chapter. Through the years, he was active in teaching and advising students in the Non-Collegiate Learning Assessment Program and in continuing education.

His extensive work to microfilm the local church records, some of which dated back to 1812, was done with a grant from the Western New York Library Resources Council.

In the mid-1990s, he moved to Depew.

He retired in January of 1998 and in May of that year was named professor emeritus.

"As a father and grandfather, Dad was to his last day a motivator, a confidant and an awfully thoughtful man," said his son, Mark.

His son, Edward J. Zimmermann III, died in January 2017 at age 62.

Besides Patricia McCue, he is survived by four daughters, Mary Patricia Baumann, Karen M. Savage, Gretchen M. Kellick and Johann M. Earsing; two sons, Eric and Mark J. Zimmermann; three sisters, Katherine Fitch, Margaret Recktenwald and Mary Schutte; two of his three brothers, Peter and Stephen Zimmermann; 15 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

A Memorial Mass will be said at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Christ the King Chapel on the Canisius College campus.

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