Neal Zimmerman was the founding Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, Tennessee. The organization was chartered on June 24, 1964 and it was through his vision and placement of the building blocks that the organization has done so well over their rich history. Before coming to Cleveland, Mr. Zimmerman worked in Boys & Girls Clubs in Orlando, Florida. After leaving Cleveland in 1969, Neal served as the Executive Director in Gainesville, Florida, a position he held until his retirement in 1993. In addition to his work with his local organization, Mr. Zimmerman was very active with the Professional Association. Simply stated, he served as a catalyst for many young professionals in their career development. Many professionals owe their “start” in Boys & Girls Club work to Mr. Zimmerman.
Two health challenges end up influencing the lives of thousands of youth for over 30 years. As a pitcher in the Minnesota Twins farm system, arm problems forced Neal to look for other work, which finally led to him volunteering at a Boys Club in Orlando, FL in the early 60’s. When the Director experienced health problems, he started coming in earlier and staying later to pick up the slack. Within 30 days he was offered and accepted the Club Director’s position in 1961.Within a few years, he accepted the position of Director for a new Boys Club opening in Cleveland, Tennessee where he served from 1964 - 1969. Starting out in an old funeral home, Cleveland youth had a new clubhouse and athletic field to call their own.
When the opportunity arose to return to the state he had learned to love, he accepted the position as Executive Director for the Boys Club in Gainesville, Florida in 1970. During his tenure with the clubs nothing was more important to him than the kids in the clubs and his passion to insure they received the best services and opportunities possible. If you were in his clubs, new experiences were always available. While in Cleveland he was the first to bring t-ball to southeast Tennessee and had youth attend the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal as well as the first manned moon launch in 1969. While in Gainesville, he started the area’s first summer high school basketball and baseball leagues and brought PONY Baseball and Biddy Basketball into the area. Although a big believer in the values learned and character built through sports, education was a priority in his clubs. He was recognized for his award winning homework and tutoring programs.
Outside of his involvement with his local clubs, he was a longtime member of the Boys & Girls Club Professional Association serving as a chapter chair on a number of occasions, served over 15 years on the Boys & Girls Club Workers Association's Health Board, was a very active member in Area Councils serving multiple terms as Executive Secretary and served on and chaired numerous state BGC and Area Council committees.
Always known as a great ‘program man’ during his 33-year club career, his Jr. Leaders program in Cleveland and Gainesville may be his most lasting influence in the Boys & Girls Club Movement as it helped launch a number of club kids into very successful Boys & Girls Club careers at the local club level and at the National BGCA office. " It's very important to always put things in their historical context. Mr. Z taught many of us as club members important life lessons and skills that not only profoundly changed our life's but the life's of a generation of youth we serve as Boys & Girls Club professionals." stated Ronnie Jenkins, Cleveland Alumni, JR. Leader, Boys & Girls Club Professional. “Neal Zimmerman was more than the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland. He was a mentor, a father figure, a leader and a friend. He put the building blocks in place that in turn, dramatically touched the lives of hundreds of youngsters. He was a valiant fighter for the rights of children and a winner of those fights; a” Giant” of a man, his good work is still felt today in the lives of the young people that knew him.” stated Clyde McGuire, Boys Club Member and Junior Leader 1964-1968 and Boys & Girls Club Professional.