Kurt Zimmerli, 93, of Spartanburg, SC, died on Sunday, May 30, 2021 at his home. A native of Oftringen, Switzerland, he was born on May 16, 1928 in Zofingen, Switzerland and was the son of the late Jakob and Frieda Zimmerli-Widmer.
He earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from State Technical College in Burgdorf, Switzerland in 1954. During his college years, he completed his military service with the rank of First Lieutenant and earned an MBA degree from Western New England College in 1962.
In 1954 Kurt married Nelly Bugler. The couple moved to the United States in 1956. Mr. Zimmerli spoke no English when he came to this country, but his talents as a technical innovator were evident. He quickly mastered the language and worked in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania for various respected firms. From 1965 to 1970 he served as Honorary Consul of Switzerland for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In 1969, the Zimmerli’s came to Spartanburg where Kurt founded Zima Corporation which became the largest textile and carpet wet-processing sales firm in the United States. In 1974 he co-founded Küsters Corporation. In 1994 he became chairman of Küsters and in 2000 was elected chairman emeritus of the corporation.
It is Mr. Zimmerli’s philanthropic work in Spartanburg that has endeared him to the community. His interest and generosity have brought numerous parks and spots of natural beauty into the City of Spartanburg, giving the city a more cosmopolitan air that includes the subtle welcome of nature. He gave to Spartanburg generously as he had felt his new hometown had welcomed him with open arms.
Kurt’s love of nature and his generosity inspired several fountains, statues and landscaping projects we enjoy today in our city. Projects have included the interactive fountain at the entrance to Barnet Park and the Zimmerli Amphitheater in that park. During the renovation of Cleveland Park, the Zimmerli’s contributed the Helvetia Gazebo and the bridge over the lake there.
The Zimmerli’s donated the landscaping for the headquarters of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries and the fountain honoring Hans Balmer at the downtown campus of the Spartanburg Community College. Kurt has been active with the Noble Trees Foundation. In 2003 he was named an Honorary Affiliate Member of the American Institute of Architects.
The Zimmerli’s, together, were energetic volunteers, especially for the arts. Kurt served on the board of trustees of Converse College from 1983 to 2003, when he was named a life trustee. Converse awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree in 1998. In 2002, Mr. Zimmerli received Converse College’s Dexter Edgar Converse Award.
Kurt Zimmerli loved music. He and Nelly were staunch supporters of the Spartanburg Philharmonic and the Petrie School of Music at Converse, particularly the Moseley Chamber Music Series. At the Brevard Music Center, the Zimmerlis received the Distinguished Service Award in 2012 for leadership giving for capital projects such as Helvetia, the guest artist residence; the annual Zimmerli Piano Competition and the Zimmerli Family Opera Endowment. Mr. Zimmerli was named a Trustee Emeritus in 2003.
His commitment to Spartanburg is reflected in the numerous organizations he served. He served as board member for the Spartanburg Arts Council from 1974 to 1988. Kurt and Nelly were recipients of the 2007 David W. Reid Award for excellence in the arts.
Kurt’s commitment to the Spartanburg community has always been vigorous and long-term. He served on the board of the Spartanburg County Foundation from 1989 to 1995. He was chairman of the board in 1994. The Chamber of Commerce gave him the Neville Holcombe Distinguished Citizenship Award in 2004. South Carolina awarded Mr. Zimmerli the Order of the Palmetto in 1975.
Other honors include Rotarian in the Year in 1995, Wofford College’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1997, Kiwanis Club of Spartanburg’s Citizen of the Year in 1997. He was a founding board member for Carolina Southern Bank and for the Carolina Country Club and was a member of the board of Tietex Corporation from 1987 to 2005.
In addition to Nelly, his wife of 66 years, Mr. Zimmerli is survived by a daughter, Kathy Zimmerli Wofford, a son, Mark Jakob Zimmerli (Lea Anne); and grandchildren, Allison and Lauren Russell.
The family expresses deep appreciation for the kind and loving care provided to the family by Comfort Keepers, especially Jill Humphries and Kathy Cole of Spartanburg Regional Hospice.
A Memorial Service will be conducted 11:00 AM Thursday, June 10, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church, 393 E. Main St., Spartanburg, SC 29302, by The Rev. Dr. Lewis F. Galloway and The Rev. Joanne R. Hull. Committal into the First Presbyterian Columbarium will be private.
The family will be at the home.
No flowers please. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Friends of the Petrie School of Music, Converse College, 580 East Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29302-1931, or Spartanburg Regional Home Care Hospice, PO Box 2624, Spartanburg, SC 29304.
Floyd’s North Church Street Chapel
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