BOWLING GREEN — Barbara Lockard Zimmerman, a 37-year vocal instructor at Bowling Green State University, where a colleague once said her voice was "like a howitzer," died Thursday at the Heritage Inn senior community in Bowling Green.
Mrs. Zimmerman, 78, had been in failing health since undergoing back surgery in November. She had been given a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease and dementia, said her husband, James Zimmerman.
She joined the university's musical performance studies department in 1971 and was named head of the university's voice department in 1980, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses until her retirement in 2007.
Active in opera, she had performed 30 roles, many in summer performances, and in theater productions.
She also sang with the Toledo Opera.
Early in her career Mrs. Zimmerman performed in the Judy Garland Show at the Metropolitan Opera as well as in the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Oberlin Music Theater, and with the New York City Opera, as well as other stages, according to her biography.
Mark Munson, director of choral activities at BGSU, said he and Mrs. Zimmerman often taught the same students and worked closely together to ensure they were given proper direction with their voices and careers.
"She was very supportive," Mr. Munson said. "We would often talk about the students and figure out what was best for them."
Mr. Munson, who joined the faculty in 1990, said Mrs. Zimmerman at that time had ceased singing solo roles but continued to be active in ensembles.
In group settings, her voice remained strong. He recalled sitting next to her at a convocation in which the members sang the national anthem.
"She stood up and was really wailing away," he said. "I told her, ‘You still got it, baby,' and she said ‘Yes I do.'"
In a 2005 article in Pro Musica, a departmental publication, composer and professor emeritus Wallace De Pue told an interviewer he recalled meeting Mrs. Zimmerman when he was a new faculty member and said he was impressed with her vocal abilities.
"She had a voice like a howitzer," Mr. De Pue said.
She was born on Aug. 20, 1934, in West Frankfort, Ill., an only child to George and Mabel Lockard.
She attended Indiana University in Bloomington, receiving her bachelor’s master’s and doctoral degrees in music. In 1959 she premiered the role of Jeannie in Paul Green’s The Stephen Foster Story and sang that role 175 times over the next three years.
In 1959, she sang in Japan, Korea, and other counties on a three-month tour for the USO-sponsored Indian Bells.
"They were a group of music-performing girls put together by a couple of professors," Mr. Zimmerman said.
She was a member of the National Opera Association, a service institution promoting artists and education in opera, and was president of its Opera for Youth organization.
She also directed productions aimed at children and was the youth organization's convention chairman in 1991.
Under her direction Opera for Youth began in 1978 a competition for budding opera singers and vocalists.
The competition at first offered little in the way of prizes, Mr. Zimmerman said, but later it awarded money and as well as recognition for budding singers.
One of Mrs. Zimmerman's students, Benjamin Brecher, a tenor, won the national competition in 1992 and has gone on to sing for the New York City Opera, the Toledo Opera, and numerous operas in the United States and Europe.
Mrs. Zimmerman went to New York City in 1956 and worked with Beverly Sills at the City Opera and toured with the Judy Garland production.
She taught music to high school and college students in Kentucky and then returned to New York, where she had parts in operas, plays, and musicals, her husband said.
She later taught at Kansas State Teachers College. At that time she had interviewed for a job in Akron and on her way back home, a dean at Indiana alerted her to an opening at BGSU.
"He told her to stop at Bowling Green on the way back because they were looking for a mezzo [soprano]," Mr. Zimmerman said.
"She only planned to stay there for a year," he recalled with a chuckle. "She stayed for 37."
While at Bowling Green she met James Zimmerman, a fellow opera devotee, at a church function. The couple married on May 26, 1984, in Bloomington, Ind. The wedding site was determined by his bride's many ties to the university, Mr. Zimmerman said.
"That was the central point where all her friends would gather," he said.
In Bowling Green, Mrs. Zimmerman produced productions for the Black Swamp Players and dinner theater shows for a church.
She was a member of First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo.
Her first marriage ended in divorce.
She is survived by her husband, James, and two stepchildren, Amy and Paul Zimmerman.
Visitation is to be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Deck-Hanneman Funeral Home, Bowling Green. A service to celebrate her life is to be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the funeral home.
An additional visitation will be in West Franklin, Ill., at the First Baptist Church, beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by a celebration of life service at 11 a.m.
Memorials are suggested to the Cherry Street Mission, Toledo.
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