Note: This was one of my all-time favortie assignments. The article was for a Monsanto newsletter and was about a career DeKalb seed corn salesman named Paul Zimmer from Rensselaer, IN, who was also a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge. We spent about half the interview talking about seed sales and half talking about WWII, Patton, Eisenhower, Churchill and more [Please note sidebar]. Unfortunately, the only hard copy I was ever able to get my hands on was one Paul had written all over, then had printed up to send to his friends.
Paul Zimmer at 85: Still Going
After 52 years, most seed dealers aren’t still selling at age 85. Or getting married at 83.
But then, Paul Zimmer, Rensselaer, isn’t your average dealer (or anything else, for that matter). And really, why should he quit? After all, he had a good year.
“I’ve got the biggest delivery this spring I’ve had in twenty years,” smiles Zimmer.
And besides, the things he’s enjoyed most over his career—his friends, the farmers, and meeting new people—still motivate him.
“Especially at my age, it gets me out, keeps me active, so I don’t just hibernate,” states Zimmer.
A lifelong grain and hog farmer (except for four years in World War II), Zimmer started selling seed corn for DeKalb in 1954.
“I was approached by my old 4-H leader, a district manager for DeKalb. I told him that I was already selling a couple other brands, but that I’d give it a try. But I soon dropped the other two, because DeKalb was so superior in yield and standability,” relates Zimmer.
Over the years, Zimmer gradually became one of DeKalb’s top dealers. Zimmer credits a couple of events with helping to promote his business.
“When I returned from the war, I married the county Home Extension Agent, which got my name around in a hurry. For about twenty years, I was chairman of several farm organizations in Jasper County, so a lot of farmers knew me. Then in 1966 my business really got a boost. There was a lot of wind in the area that year, and by harvest, most of the corn was laying flat on the ground, except DeKalb’s new variety XL 45, which was still standing well. That year I sold 5,000 bushels, and all I had to do was just answer the phone and take orders.”
Zimmer recalls that when he started, seed sold for $20 per bag and he had to lift all the bags by hand. Now bulk deliveries and pallets help “save my old arms and back,” allowing him to still keep selling. He also appreciates the new seed technology, which enables him to sell the farmer the opportunity to protect his health from insecticide and the chemical poisoning of his body, while protecting his crops from corn borer, rootworm, and other pests and weeds.
Over time, Zimmer has observed changes in the way farmers buy their seed.
“With the new technology, farmers want to order in early fall, when everything is still available to them, and pay for it then. But they also know that they can change varieties up to planting time.”
Zimmer credits “providing trustworthy service” as one of the keys to his success in the business, saying “I have young farmers today that I sold seed to their great-grandfathers, grandfathers, and fathers.”
When he’s not spending time with wife Glendola or selling seed, one thing Zimmer’s enjoyed over the last several years is making presentations to adult and school groups about World War II’s Battle of the Bulge.
Of his many accomplishments, Zimmer reflects, “I’ve done a lot in my life, and I enjoyed doing it.”
Farm Upbringing Saved His Life
During World War II Paul Zimmer was a member of the storied 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles). Prior to D-Day Zimmer entered Normandy in a glider filled with anti-tank weapons, which the GI’s used to soften up the German defenses at Utah Beach.
A few months later Zimmer and fellow Screaming Eagles were engaged in ferocious combat to hold the Belgian city of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Not only were they fighting the Germans, but also some of the worst weather in years, with temperatures down to 20 below.
Zimmer recalls entering an old barn one night for shelter and seeing some dairy cows.
“I knew that cows give off lots of heat, because as a boy I used keep my gloves warm by laying them on the cows’ backs while I milked.”
So he snuggled up between two of the cows to help keep warm while he got some sleep. During the night, the barn was hit with a bomb. When it was over, Zimmer was alive, but the two cows were dead, killed by shrapnel.
“Those two cows saved my life,” states Zimmer. “God had to be taking care of me.”