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Let Me Tell You About My Friend Mike….A Memorial

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When I graduated from the University of Florida in 1992 with my Bachelors Degree, my fiancee and I got married, and we moved to Tampa for me to do my graduate work at the University of South Florida.  We got a great apartment in the Tampa suburb of Temple Terrace – I still remember it to this day…Carlton Arms North.   The location of our apartment was just a stones throw from the tennis courts, and it was there that I first met Michael Zimmermann.

I was always looking for something for my new wife and I to do together, and tennis seemed like a great idea.  So I got us both some cheap racquets (grad student budget), and we’d go out to the tennis courts and try to play.  Back in my community college days, I had taken a tennis class and really enjoyed it, but it was always a challenge finding someone else who played tennis.  My wife at the time had never taken any classes, so it was about all she could do just get the ball back over the net.  One evening while my wife and I played,  Mike strolled over and asked to join us in our game.  We confessed that we weren’t very good (that much was I’m sure obvious to Mike) but he said that he just enjoyed the game and jumped in on my wife’s side of the net.  As we played, Mike’s innate positive attitude and joy for life shinned – this was a guy who always had a smile on his face.  We did more laughing than playing that evening, but it was clear that Mike was quite good at tennis.  After our game, I exchanged phone numbers with Mike – his girlfriend at the time lived in our apartment complex, so he was in the area often.  Like me, he was a student at the University of South Florida, and was finishing his Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering.  Mike was also working as a co-op for Lakeland Power.  I forget exactly how he did it – whether he worked for a semester then went to school for a semester, or just did both part time.  But either way, I do recall Mike was making enviable money as a a co-op, and was paying his own way through school.  He had an incredible work ethic – the kind you just don’t see very often these days.

Over the next several weeks, Mike and I began playing more and more tennis.  If memory serves, Mike played on his high school team, having been taught the game by his father.  Mike was a patient teacher and I was a determined student.  Slowly…very slowly, my tennis game began to improve.  Mike beat me me most games…and he probably let me win a few too just to keep me motivated to keep playing.   That’s the kind of guy Mike was…he was a fierce competitor but would loose in a heartbeat to make someone feel better about themselves. We quickly learned that we had several other interests in common.  We both were heavily into computers and gaming, and both collected comic books.  You could probably and accurately describe us as a couple of 22 year old guys who hadn’t quite grown up yet.  Mike had a child-like quality to his personality that was perhaps one of his most endearing characteristics.  This was evident in his love of all things Disney – being less than 2 hours from Disney World, Mike knew the park like the back of his hand. We all went to Disney together once, which is where this photo was taken:

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Over the next two years Mike and I  would spend a lot of time together – sometimes it would be just us, and other times we’d do “date nights” with my wife and his girlfriend.  Here’s a photo of Mike and I together at our apartment.  I recall Mike being dressed like a typical Floridian on a decidedly non-Florida like weather day, so I let him borrow one of my sweatshirts – I don’t even recall what we’d planned to do that day, but it must have been an outside activity.  We were both 22 or 23 at the time.

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During the hotter months in FL, we played less tennis and more computer games.  Mike would come over on days we both should have been studying for our respective classes and we’d spend hours playing video games like a couple of teenagers.  Usually, much hilarity would ensue during these gaming sessions.  That was part of both the fun and the challenge – if you could do something do or say something that would make the other guy laugh enough during a match, you could take advantage of the distraction.  The problem was, in many cases we’d both end up laughing so hard we had tears streaming down our faces and neither could mount any sort of defense or offense in the game.

Mike and I spent many hours battling each other in Street Fighter 2.

Mike and I spent many hours battling each other in Street Fighter 2.

Another favorite activity for us was to visit comic book stores or local comic book conventions in search of back issues we were each missing in our collections.  I recall that Mike had a particular fondness of both Warlord, as written and drawn by Mike Grell, and the character Ghost Rider:

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Each of us had our own innate talents and we complemented one another well.  MIke had the mind of an engineer and the heart of a mechanic – there wasn’t much he couldn’t do when provided the right tools.  Me on the other hand, I was useless with tools – about the only tool I ever knew how to use was a phone book.  But I was a master at the “art of the deal” – both spotting a good value and negotiating.  Mike used to marvel at my negotiation skills with comic book dealers and I helped him get some great deals on more than one occasion.  Mike actually made me change the oil and the serpentine belt on my 1987 Porche 944 – under his tutelage of course.  Truth be told, I hated every minute of it.  But I was a better man for having done it – just one of the many things for which I have to be thankful to Mike.  Mike was a car guy through and through (another interest we both had in common), and Mike loved Mustangs.  I recall one of the first things he bought when he was making “real” money when he graduated from college was a convertible Mustang Cobra:

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Mike finished his Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering, and took a position at a company in St. Petersburg, FL called Jabil Circuit.  I finished my Masters Degree in Organizational Management, and my now ex-wife forced us to move back to her home town of Grand Rapids, MI. We tried to talk on the phone as often as we could once I moved, and Mike even flew up to Grand Rapids to visit once – his first time seeing snow.

It was about two year later that my then wife called me while I was on a business retreat in the Orlando area to let me know she’d filed the divorce papers.  Devastated, I called my buddy Mike and he immediately drove over to Orlando from St. Petersburg.  Quite honestly, I’ve never known friendship like what I received from Mike that day.  He was there for me when I needed him the most.  I’ll never forget that he got me out on the tennis court that night – to help get me mind off things.  And of course, he got me laughing.  At the lowest point in my life, Mike got me to laugh.

Within a couple of years, I’d moved to Dayton, Ohio and gotten my life back in order.  My father was living in Florida at the time, and I took a vacation to Florida to see Mike.  He’d moved to an apartment in St. Petersburg and was dating his next door neighbor – the woman whom he would eventuall marry, named Carol.  We all played some tennis together (Carol was exceptionally good at the game) and took some photos (I’m thinking this must have been right around 2000):

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Mike and Carol soon married (I believe around 2001) and started a family.  I only got to meet Mike’s boys (Braun and Michael) a couple of times.  Once when my then fiancee (and later wife) Karen, my son John and I visited Mike’s family over Christmas break in 2005.  We drove down to FL and got to spend a day in the Tampa area.  It had been roughly 5 years since we’d seen each other, and oh how that time together just flew by that day.  Both of our lives had changed so much.  I remember that during this trip, Mike met us out at the St. Petersburg Pier – Karen, John, and I had lunch at Coconuts at the top floor of the Pier.  I confessed to Mike how much I missed him, and that I’d never really connected with another guy the way Mike and I did.  He felt much the same and asked when I’d be moving back to Florida?  I had always wanted to move back to Florida and be closer to Mike.  When, I didn’t know…but someday I thought.  Mike and I wouldn’t see each other again for another four years – until the Spring of 2009 when my son John and I went spent a few days in Florida visiting John’s grandfather.  Mike joined us for just a few hours at Universal Studios in Orlando.   Our lives were so busy at this point….but I was so thankful he was able to come even for just a few hours.  Once in 2011, I had to cover a story (I’ve done a lot of freelance writing and photography) in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.  The only time we could work out to see each other was right after my business dinner at the Vinoy Hotel ended, and right before my return flight to Dayton.  Mike drove out to the hotel and met me, then drove me to the Tampa airport.  We talked in the car, and then sat and talked for about an hour in a seating area in the airport – it was just like old times.  Again, it was a brief time together, but a precious memory for me.

Between the months and years we got to see each other, we tried to speak on the phone as often as we could.  Mike was never very good about calling, and I don’t think I ever got an email from him.  It would usually take about 3 or more times of my calling him to either catch him or for him to call me back.  When I was younger, it used to hurt a bit that Mike wasn’t as good about that sort of thing than I was.  As I got older, I realized that Mike simply had his priorities straight.  Mike’s focus was God first, family second, then work.  Mike was fiercely devoted to his wife and children.  I admire him greatly for that.  But usually three or four times a year (sometimes more) Mike and I would talk on the phone.  I’m very thankful for that time he gave me.  In addition to his work and family responsibilities, Mike was always furthering himself.  chasing some resume enhancing certification (like Six Sigma Black Belt certification) or degree (Mike was working on an MBA when he died).  This wasn’t a guy who has a lot of extra time on his hands, so it says a lot about how he felt about me that he was able to carve out any time for our relationship at all over the years.  I’m truly appreciative of that.

The last time I got to see Mike was during a trip to Florida my son and I made for his Spring Break in 2012 – we carved out a couple of days to spend in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and got to spend the better part of a day with Mike and his family.   It was during this trip that Mike and I got to go to church and worship together.  After marrying Carol, Mike had really committed his life to Christ and was a great example to me of a Christian walking with Christ.    There are some people in this world who are sinners, then come to know Christ at some point – and their life radically changes.  Then there are others who are a better example of what Christ taught before they ever set foot in a church or pick up a Bible…people like Mike.  To know Mike was to love Mike and to be loved by Mike – he was always that way.  With everyone.  Another highlight of that particular trip was taking Mike and one of his sons to a pistol range and teaching them how to shoot.  I’ve been a life long gun owner, but at that point in my life had begun shooting competitively and had even become an NRA Certified Instructor.  It was a genuine pleasure for me to be able to share that part of my life with Mike and his son.

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It would be about a year after our last visit with him that Mike would learn that he had lung cancer – May of 2013 I believe.  Why this had to happen to Mike, I’ll never know until I meet the Lord himself and ask him.  God knows Mike never smoked.   When Mike first told me, I was shocked beyond belief.  But in typical Mike Zimmermann optimism, he assured me that he planned to fight the cancer with everything he had…and fight he did.  I called Mike often over the next year, and I never EVER heard any hint weakness or despair in him – only bravery and optimism.  It turns out my friend was every bit of an example to me of how not just to live, but also how to die.  I hope I meet my own death with as much dignity, honor, and bravery as Michael Zimmermann met his own.

For as long as I live, I want to remember and treasure the memories I have with good friend and brother in Christ Michael Zimmermann – which is a large part of why I wrote this memorial to him.  But my reasons aren’t entirely selfish – I’d like the rest of the world to know what a great man Michael Zimmermann really was.  Particularly his two sons – Braun and Michael.  The only gift I have that I can give to Mike is to share this story of who he was to me with his sons in hopes that in the years to come they will better know the man that was their father.  If someone who knew Mike and would like to share any stories of their own about how they knew Mike in the comments section below, I’m sure both the boys and Carol would love to read them.

Until we meet again my friend – keep the tennis courts in Heaven warm.

Michael S. Zimmermann
8/17/1970 – 07/28/2014

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

  1. John, I have to write this e-mail thru tears…Tears that such a friend would write such a great tribute to Mike and express in such a special way your friendship. John – I know you wrote that with my boys in mind…believe me they will have that always for their reference to what a true friendship means, and I’m just so glad that you and Mike had a special bond while he was here on earth, I think however, you two will continue with your forever friendship into eternity. Thanks for your prayers and just always remember, we’ll see Mike again soon. Let’s just pass along his smile and sincere kind heartness that he always had. Love to you always…I’m good..you were so kind to express help in the inevitable paperwork. Fortunataly I have my sister who is helping. John – Mike would of been so proud an honored by your words… thank you again… We’ll keep in touch.. Love, Carol, Braun and Michael

  2. Thanks Much Carol – glad you liked the tribute. I’m looking forward to seeing him again. 🙂

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