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At age 99, retired teacher has never stopped learning

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rosalyn Zimmerman called me here at the Journal newsroom last spring.

She said she had been reading my columns and stories and that she enjoyed them. Some of them, anyway.

I get calls and emails like that from time to time. They’re appreciated. I started in this business more than 40 years ago, but I still like to be assured that I’m not wasting newsprint.

But my talk with Rosalyn was a little different from others. She asked me when I was going to write about her.

“What’s your story?” I asked. “What kind of a story would I write about you?”

“I write poetry,” she said.

Rosalyn Zimmerman, 99, answers a question during the "Jeopardy" contest at the Atria Vista Del Rio Assisted Living Center. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Rosalyn Zimmerman, 99, answers a question during the “Jeopardy” contest at the Atria Vista Del Rio Assisted Living Center. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Oh,” I said. “Has your poetry been published?”

“No,” she said. “But I think you should write a story about me.”

“Oh,” I said. It was the best I could come up with at the time.

I wrote down Rosalyn’s name, her phone number and her address at the Atria Vista Del Rio assisted living center here in Albuquerque. I told her I would call her soon. And I would have, but she called me back first. And then again. And again.

“I’m the kind of person who is very determined,” she told me. “I’m going to get something done.”

One day last April, I started out of the newsroom, telling my city editor I was going to interview Rosalyn Zimmerman.

“What’s the story?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But back in Journalism 101 they told me everybody has one.”

Rosalyn’s story starts in the Bronx in New York City on July 27, 1917. She turned 99 a few weeks ago, an occasion celebrated at Atria with balloons, flowers, a cake and a song.

She is the daughter of Benjamin Adelson, who was a furrier, and his wife, Esther, both immigrants from Kiev, Ukraine, who settled in the Bronx.

Rosalyn earned an undergraduate degree in history from Hunter College in Manhattan in 1937 and a master’s in history from the City College of New York in 1958. She lived in New Jersey for 40 years and taught for 26 years at Cresskill High School in Cresskill, N.J., becoming head of the history department there.

“I have been a teacher all my life,” she told me during a visit in her sun-filled room at Atria. “I set a very high bar for my students. I used to play (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s) ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. This was at a school that had one black student.”

Rosalyn married Harry Zimmerman, an artist who signed his work – oils, inks, acrylics – “Zim.” Rosalyn’s field is history, but she got a top-notch education in art while living with Harry and visiting museums with him.

Harry contracted Parkinson’s, a disease that devastated not only Harry but Rosalyn as well.

“It is very hard to see a man become nothing,” she said.

Needing the support of family, Rosalyn and Harry moved to Albuquerque in December 1996 because their son Mark, a physician, lived here at the time. Three weeks after they arrived, Harry died.

Rosalyn Zimmerman listens intently as Lisa Tvedten, Engage Life instructor at Albuquerque's Atria Vista Del Rio Assisted Living Center, reads a question during the weekly "Jeopardy" competition at the center. Zimmerman, who turned 99 recently, is a longtime teacher and lifelong learner. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Rosalyn Zimmerman listens intently as Lisa Tvedten, Engage Life instructor at Albuquerque’s Atria Vista Del Rio Assisted Living Center, reads a question during the weekly “Jeopardy” competition at the center. Zimmerman, who turned 99 recently, is a longtime teacher and lifelong learner. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Suddenly, Rosalyn was 2,000 miles from everything she knew – “Albuquerque is a little strange. People here don’t dress up.” – and freed from the duty of caring for Harry.

She was 79 then, but she went back to teaching. For six years, she taught art history for the University of New Mexico’s continuing education program. She worked for 13 years as a docent at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and tutored at Albuquerque’s Apache Elementary School for a dozen years.

“I tutored fourth grade, any subject,” she said. “They (the students) didn’t believe me when I told them diamonds came from coal. They thought I was kidding. Fourth-graders are just beginning to grow up and look around and find out about the world.”

Everybody has a story. By this time, I knew Rosalyn’s story is about someone who has never stopped looking around, never stopped learning, never stopped squeezing all she can out of life.

She moved into Atria two years ago and is an active participant there in Scrabble games and the in-house “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” competitions. She keeps up with current events and borrows books – usually large-print nonfiction – every three weeks from the visiting library van.

And she writes poems with titles such as “The Horizon of My Mind,” “Serenity,” “I’m Sorry” and “Eccentrics” (Do eccentrics foster happiness and joy/ or are their actions just a ploy). She writes her poetry in longhand, often in the middle of the night.

“There are times when I go to bed and my head is jiggling with words,” she said. “I get up and I may be sitting up at 1 a.m. writing. Now, the next morning I may throw it out because I don’t like what I wrote. But I don’t care. I’ve taken care of that craving, that desire to write something.”

I called Rosalyn on Monday to tell her I was writing about her.

“I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with,” she told me. “I’ve written a new poem.”

“What’s it called?” I asked.

” ‘A Word,’ ” she said. Want to hear it?”

“Sure,” I said. After all, I’ve found out that “no” is a word Rosalyn does not understand.

UpFront is a front page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie at 823-3916 or oreed@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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