A Career of Service and Care: Gary Zimmerman’s 34 years at NBA
After 34 years with the National Benevolent Association, Chief Financial Officer Gary Zimmerman announced his retirement in August 2021 and ended his time officially with NBA at the end of January 2022. Zimmerman saw the organization through many iterations, including a tough bankruptcy. Rising through the financial ranks at NBA he oversaw central office accounting, corporate accounting, and eventually the entire finance department at the organization.
Before Zimmerman had even heard of the NBA, he was a teenager with a good amount of free time during the summer looking to help with the family business.
“My father was an accountant, and he had his own accounting practice in St. Charles, Missouri,” Zimmerman recalls. “One year he needed some help to get through a busy period, so he gave me this textbook and told me to read the first six chapters to get caught up on the work he was doing.”
Zimmerman did what was asked of him and to his surprise ended up enjoying the work. Those few months working alongside his dad was all it took to solidify his decision to pursue a career in finance. After high school, he attended the University of Missouri St. Louis where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Accountancy. majored in accounting. From there, Zimmerman began his financial career in public accounting before moving on to Anthem and working in public reporting.
After about a decade in the corporate financial world, he was looking for more and hoped for an opportunity that would allow him to build his leadership skills. That’s where NBA comes in. In 1987 Zimmerman saw an ad in the St. Louis Post Dispatch for a Director of Central Office Accounting position at NBA. He decided to apply.
“I was drawn to the position because I knew it would give me the opportunity to gain some leadership skills by having a small team to manage,” he says. “I interviewed with Leon Whitney (NBA’s CFO at the time) and he seemed like a great guy to work with, so when offered the position, I said yes.”
At the time, NBA’s finance team had five small departments that each focused on different financial facets of the organization. The department Zimmerman led focused on receipt disbursement and financial closing. The role proved to be both challenging and fruitful and after three years of overseeing one department, Zimmerman was promoted to Director of Corporate Accounting where he oversaw several departments.
Zimmerman’s leadership skills and financial acumen continued to shine as he moved on to the position of Associate Vice President of Financial Management. Then, in 2005, he experienced one of the most challenging moments in his career and NBA’s history. The organization filed for bankruptcy.
“The bankruptcy was tough, we lost the senior care facilities we’d been managing, along with other facilities,” Zimmerman recalls. “Generations of families had histories of volunteering at many of those locations, so that was one level of sadness. Then, we lost employees, which was another level of sadness.”
At the time, NBA’s business model centered around care facilities. The organization owned and operated 11 senior-care facilities, 3 special-care facilities for individuals who were developmentally disabled, and 4 children residential care facilities. Additionally, the NBA managed more than 70 HUD-financed, adult low-income residential housing projects and had more than 70 people working at the central office in St. Louis, Missouri.
Facilities were sold, debt was paid and in order for the organization to move forward, a Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer needed to be appointed by NBA’s Board of Trustees. In 2005, the trustees appointed Dennis Hagemann the new CEO and Zimmerman as NBA’s new CFO.
“When I hired Gary, I recognized his great accounting skills, which he worked on improving year after year,” says Leon Whitney, former NBA CFO. “As he took on more responsibilities, and more staff began working under him, I knew we had a winner for the NBA! His number of years, even through NBA’s difficult years, has shown his value.”
With new leadership and a new Board of Trustees in place, the organization shifted its focus from
direct care through owning facilities to supporting a myriad of health and social service agencies in a variety of ways. This shift came as a recommendation from a Blue Ribbon Panel, a group of Disciples independent from the organization who helped discern the organization’s next steps.
As the newly appointed CFO, a title Zimmerman had hoped to hold at an organization one day, he was responsible for overseeing the financial health of the entire organization, a role he served with pride.
“NBA has been blessed to have had such a strong leader providing oversight of our assets, gifts we have been entrusted to steward in the fulfillment of our mission,” says Mark D. Anderson, NBA President, and CEO. “I’m so grateful for Gary’s many years of service, as well as all the finance staff, who over the years have brought integrity and accountability to ensure NBA’s ministries would thrive.”
There’s a lot to be proud of in a 34-year career with one organization. Amongst the transitions, unforeseen challenges, and promotions Zimmerman says he leaves the organization most proud of the people. Both the staff he got to work with, like Christie Koetting and Lesley Durham, and the partners, donors, and trustees he crossed paths with throughout the years.
“I’ve often seen gifts come into the office from people whom I know did not have great means but gave gifts to the NBA each year because they believed so much in what the organization does. Additionally, there has been money left to us through bequests over the years, people who passed away and left NBA everything they had,” Zimmerman explains. “I always felt we owed a great debt to these people. We owed them our diligence and highest efforts to put their resources to use effectively and sustainably to address the health and social service needs of the communities we serve. I like to think I kept that in mind throughout my time at NBA, it’s that responsibility that kept me going even through the difficult times.”
In addition to working to be a good shepherd of the monetary gifts from donors and other financial needs of the NBA, Zimmerman credits his team and the trustees for making his three decades at NBA so fulfilling.
“My staff, especially Christie and Lesley, have been so generous. There’s never been a task I’ve given them that they haven’t worked tirelessly to complete,” he says. “Additionally, our board has been incredible to work with over the years, and they really do have the organization’s best interests at heart. One of the duties of a board is a duty of loyalty. I’ve never seen any of them try to benefit from being members, they’ve always deeply cared about the organization. They’ve shown up willing to work, and their care for the organization has come through in their actions.”
Zimmerman’s last month at NBA was spent ushering in a new colleague, Amy Johns, who began as CFO on January 1, 2022. He spent much of the month of January imparting the wisdom he’s gained in the roles he’s held throughout his career at the organization. His last day was January 31, 2022.
As NBA continues to work with congregations, ministries, entrepreneurs, and young adults, Zimmerman says he’s encouraged to see the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) become energized by the work the NBA is participating in.
Now a retiree, Zimmerman is looking forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren and is excited to return to the city of Edwardsville, Illinois, where he raised his family and where many of his children and grandchildren still reside.
“Gary has always held to the highest standards in his work at NBA. He has strong integrity in his work and true commitment to the mission of NBA,” says Anderson. “He will be missed as he discovers new roads to go down during his retirement. Along with Rick Lance, Leon Whitney, and many more staff of the Finance Department over the generations, he leaves a legacy here, for us, and those who will follow.”