Overton dedicates tree to longtime volunteer Leon Zimmerman

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2021

SALISBURY – Overton Elementary students gathered in front of the school Thursday afternoon where a freshly planted sapling will memorialize someone who was a fixture at the school for years.

Leon Zimmerman had to stop volunteering at the school when his health took a turn for the worse a few years ago. He was a familiar face inside the school for about a decade, reading to kids and helping out in any way he could. He died in June at age 91.

Attending Thursday’s event were members of the family, including the Posts, who Zimmerman is connected to through his sister Rose, a longtime columnist for the Salisbury Post.

His daughter, Laura Zimmerman-Clark, has taught third grade at Overton for 17 years of her 27-year teaching career. Zimmerman-Clark went to Overton when she was an elementary student and said the tree was a special honor.

“It means a lot to me,” Zimmerman-Clark said.

She spoke to the students about her father and told them about his belief in the golden rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Five students led everyone in a rendition of “Kind-Hearted Hand.”

The tree, planted next to the school’s “Buddy Bench,” has an inscription reading “Strength Tree — Sit by me and be renewed.”

Zimmerman-Clark said her father was a humble person who never did things for recognition. He would read with students, participate in events like field days and fun runs and help raise funds.

Zimmerman’s wife, Phyllis, said Leon could not stay away. He planned to volunteer once a week, but that changed quickly.

“He came every day and enjoyed every minute of it,” Phyllis said, adding he knew all the students by name and he enjoyed seeing them out and about when they would go grocery shopping or to a restaurant.

School counselor Rosemary Wood said she remembered seeing Leon every day, adding that he reminded her of her own father, always respectful and looking for ways to help. After he died, she went to Principal Marae Reid to propose honoring his memory at the school.

“We wanted it to be something for our whole school, for it to reflect the strength that we get from community members like Mr. Zimmerman,” Wood said.

Thursday also was Earth Day. Wood said the tree will bloom in May and does well in direct sunlight. Staff loosened the soil at the site so kids could help take scoops out for the planting.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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