Mark Zimmerman’s sister, Marian, has lived with HCO for over 40 years. Mark recalls that when his sister came to HCO, the organization was called Group Homes of Winona, and there were many more people in a single home. He is much more a fan of the current configuration of HCO’s homes, where residents live with a handful of others at the most, or by themselves, and are more active participants in the managing of the household. Before Marian moved to HCO, she lived at home with her loving family. Mark says, however, the move to HCO gave her an independence she never really had before.
Mark’s daughter, Geri Corey, agrees. Geri admits that she was against having her aunt move to HCO at first and wanted Marian to move in with her family. Now though, Geri believes that she and her family didn’t have the training and knowledge to encourage her aunt to do anything that challenged their idea of her abilities. “I’d have her coloring with the kids,” says Geri. “She has done much better with HCO.” At HCO, Marian is encouraged to spread her wings and challenge herself, and she loves it.
Mark continues, “Before my sister came to HCO, she didn’t get much exercise, but now she goes for walks, rides an exercise bike, and can even go to the carnival and go on the rides!” Both Mark and Geri are grateful that Marian gets such good physical care and that people are monitoring her medications, scheduling medical visits, and are so concerned for her total welfare.
In the years since Marian came to HCO, Mark and Geri have both become very active volunteers within the agency. Mark has served on the Board of Directors for over 20 years, and also on various agency committees, including the Finance, Human Rights, and the Building Committees. He also volunteers his time as a member of the Sharon Kannenberg Fundraising Committee, as well as the Production and Publicity Committees that work with various facets of HCO’s annual musical. Mark began volunteering because he was so impressed with the professionalism and caring of the staff and how well and happy his sister was with HCO. He says it is “truly rewarding to be around the people we serve and see how much they grow the longer they are with HCO. I’m always amazed at how well-trained the staff members are, and how well they treat the individuals they work with.”
Geri interjected, “I’m amazed at how they pick such perfect people!”
Geri has been volunteering for the organization for over 5 years. A number of years ago, Geri’s husband was involved in a serious work accident in Arcadia and was hospitalized for weeks. After he returned home, he was unable to travel in a regular vehicle. Denny Theede (who was then the Executive Director of HCO) allowed Mark to borrow a specialized agency vehicle to help. Geri was so impressed with the kindness that, as soon as she was able, she decided to give back to HCO. Geri joined her father to serve on HCO’s Sharon Kanneberg Committee, as well as HCO’s Production and Publicity Committees. Geri loves her involvement with the production because “the people get so excited and joyous about the show and love it when they get to see and try on their costumes.”
“When Denny Schrandt first came up with the idea for a musical,” remembers Mark, “we thought it was a dumb idea. But he convinced the board, and it’s been great for the organization. We were grateful for even $1,000 at first, but it has grown so much that it is a major part of our fundraising, with the funds from community patrons, advertising, and merchandise.”
The musical is a lot of work, but Mark and Geri both believe that the response from the cast, HCO individuals, audiences, and the wider community makes it worth it. “The public sees what our people are capable of,” says Mark, and thinks that all involved experience growth and joy.
Mark and his wife, Grace, have been in business in Winona for many years. Starting out at the Wilson store, they’ve done work in real estate sales, restoring and owning the Exchange Building, and most recently ran an antiques business in the restored Sugar Loaf Brewery building before finally retiring. Mark grew up on a farm and has owned several, the most recent of which is on Pleasant Ridge where he and Grace raised their family. Geri and her family, as well as two other siblings, live on acreage on the farm, while Mark and Grace’s three other children live in Arizona, Alaska, and closer to home in Whitehall.
Anyone who has visited the HCO offices in downtown Winona during the harvest season may have seen more of Mark and Geri’s contributions, as well as those from another daughter of Mark’s, Judy Denzer. Bags of luscious tomatoes and cucumbers are left by the storeroom for all to take, giving the homes an infusion of free produce for their fall menus.
On September 19th, HCO will once again benefit from the Zimmerman family’s generosity when the Healthy Lifestyles program will visit their farm. There will be a hay ride, a cookout, and a “petting zoo” involving the many various animals on the farm. There are horses, mini-horses, and a dwarf horse that the Zimmerman’s adopted when his owners were unable to care for his many physical problems. They also have llamas, goats, a donkey, an alpaca, chickens, cats and dogs, and a peacock named Kevin (another adoptee!). A favorite, though, is the Flemish Giant rabbit who lives with Geri and her family, which is house-trained and weighs in at a whopping 17 pounds!
Mark and Geri both encourage other families to become involved in volunteering at HCO. There is much joy in giving back, they say, and much joy in seeing their family members enjoying full and happy lives.