Karl Zimmer


IUPUI Spirit of Philanthropy Award (2007)
Honorary Degree (2006)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Indianapolis
Presenter: Adam William Herbert
IUPUI Spirit of Philanthropy Award (1990)


When people talk about Karl R. Zimmer, one word persists; Zimmer was a "doer." And he did quite a bit. A scholar, industrialist, and philanthropist, Zimmer was a native Hoosier who received his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago in 1950 and a Candidate Magister in Nordic studies at the University of Copenhagen in 1952. From there, he began a remarkable career in business that included his posts as European director for Feffer & Simons, Inc., in The Hague and vice president for the same organization in New York. From 1964 to 1997, Zimmer was chair and chief executive officer of Zimmer Paper Products, Inc., in Indianapolis.

Zimmer was a passionate supporter of the humanities and was a stalwart ally of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Liberal Arts. He and his wife, Barbara, co-chaired the IUPUI Comprehensive Campaign for the School of Liberal Arts, helping to more than double the school's original goal. Leading by example, the Zimmers endowed the Barbara E. and Karl R. Zimmer Chair in Intercultural Communication. It was the school's first endowed chair. They also endowed a professional development fund for writing lecturers. In 2015, Professor Ulla Connor and her husband, Purdue Professor Emeritus John Connor, created the Barbara E. and Karl R. Zimmer Graduate Scholarship in English to honor the Zimmer couple.

IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz writes, "He gives of his time and talent as well as wealth. His unswerving dedication to a cause makes him able to persuade others to come aboard, knowing that his steady hand is at the helm and that he won't leave the ship until it has come safely ashore."

To many, Zimmer embodied the classical liberal arts and humanities persona. He was an enthusiast of world cultures who spoke fluent Danish and had a working knowledge of Norwegian, French, German, and Dutch. Zimmer spent a decade studying and working in Europe and lived in Kuala Lumpur for a year. Although he chose to employ his immense talents in the business world, he always served the humanities. Zimmer chaired the advisory council of the Indiana Council on World Affairs and served four terms as director of the Indiana Humanities Council. He also chaired the advisory board of the Indiana Center for Intercultural Communication (ICIC) and was a trustee and former three-term chair of the board of the Athenaeum Foundation.

Zimmer's enthusiasm and commitment extended far beyond his peers' expectations. "There are board chairs and there are board chairs," says Professor Lawrence S. Davidson at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, who met Zimmer while serving on the board of the lOC. "Karl was one of those hands-on board chairs who really cared, and his actions were the evidence."

Finland recognized Zimmer for his contributions to the paper industry by making him a Knight of the Order of the Lion of Finland. He was an accomplished and award-winning writer as well, receiving both the Olga and Paul Menn Short Story Award (second prize) at the University of Chicago and the Short Story Award (first prize) at IUPUI. Says IUPUI Professor of English Ulla Connor, "Karl Zimmer is that rare individual who combines business acumen with creative and scholarly talent."

Zimmer led a life in pursuit of humanitarian, business, and scholarly endeavors, from his academic studies in history and languages, to his world travels for intemational enterprise, to his vigorous community service on behalf of various humanities organizations. Perhaps School of Liberal Arts Dean Robert White put it best: "Karl R. Zimmer is a Renaissance man in a modern world."