JoAnn Zimmerman Obituary

JoAnn  Zimmerman
JoAnn Zimmerman
JoAnn Zimmerman

December 24, 1936 - October 22, 2019
Born in Van Buren County, Iowa
Resided in West Des Moines, Iowa
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JoAnn Zimmerman, Political Trailblazer

JoAnn McIntosh Zimmerman, one of Iowa’s great trailblazers, died on October 22, 2019 from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis. She died peacefully, surrounded by her family.

Born in 1936 on the kitchen table of her family’s farm in Van Buren County, Iowa, she graduated as Valedictorian of her class at Keosauqua High School and bore five children by the time she turned 25. While raising her five children, she served as Head Obstetrics Nurse at Broadlawns Hospital, taught Obstetrics at Broadlawns School of Nursing, and attended Drake University and Iowa State University, and eventually rose to become Iowa’s first woman Lieutenant Governor and Senate President.

Through it all, she was a natural-born and fearless leader. When she felt the school district was not providing the specialized services her children needed, she successfully ran for the Waukee School Board in 1976. When she felt the state legislature was not providing adequate attention to health care issues, she successfully ran for Iowa House of Representatives in 1982. When she felt the state government was not focusing sufficiently on the needs of women and children, she became the first woman Lieutenant Governor and President of the Iowa Senate in 1986. And when she felt even that was not enough, in 1990 she ran for Governor.

After stepping down from public office, she co-founded the Democratic Activist Women’s Network, the largest organization of women Democrats in the state, which later merged with Emerge Iowa to help recruit and train the next generation of women candidates. As the top Democratic elected official of the State and later head of DAWN, she met many national political leaders as they campaigned here during the Iowa Caucuses.

JoAnn also returned to her health care roots, serving as the administrator of various rehabilitation and home health agencies and volunteering as a nurse for neighborhood and religious organizations. She was elected President of First Christian Church in Des Moines, and became a Master Gardener in 2004.

JoAnn’s public recognition and awards were deserved, and many. Jo Ann was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Iowa Women’s Forum in 2004; she was featured by the Des Moines Register as a “Defining Woman of Iowa History” in 2006; in 2019 DAWN/Emerge Iowa named their flagship annual award after her: the Jo Ann Zimmerman Activist Award. She has been honored in at least six versions of Marquis’s Who’s Who, and in 2017 was bestowed with Marquis’s Lifetime Achievement recognition. Upon her death, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds ordered that flags be flown at half-mast for two days in JoAnn’s honor, and the Des Moines Register profiled her life at:

Notwithstanding her extensive public service, JoAnn and her husband Tom were devoted to supporting their five children, two foster children, and 20 grandchildren. When they read a news story about a parent attending 100 of their children’s games a year, Tom and JoAnn made their own tally: 100 games in 3 months - in addition to music recitals, school plays, science fairs, etc., etc., etc.

JoAnn was an explorer at heart. Whether traveling internationally on official business such as to Taiwan, or traveling the United States with her close friends from nursing school (criteria: the place had to be historic and near wineries), or on the many multi-week road trips with her children, she was always looking for new cultures, new people, and new experiences. She truly was a “daughter of Iowa” with Iowa values and a “can do” spirit. She will be missed by many but never forgotten!

JoAnn is survived by her husband, Tom, West Des Moines; son, Andy (Kim), Marietta, Georgia; daughter, Lisa (Dick) Giudici, Clive; son, Don (Sally) Omaha, Nebraska; son, Ron (Maribel), San Antonio, Texas; daughter, Beth (Rob) Boland, Dover, Massachusetts; two “special” daughters, Stella Maggio, Byram, New Jersey and Diana (Mohammed) Inanlou, Mashad, Iran; 20 grandchildren; sister, Sandra Cullen, Las Cruces, NM and a brother, Jim (June) McIntosh, McKinney, TX.

Visitation will be held 4:00-7:00 p.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019 and memorial services at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 26, 2019 both to be held at the First Christian Church in Des Moines.

In memory of JoAnn, please contribute to Planned Parenthood of Iowa, or the First Christian Church in Des Moines. For on-line condolences please visit






First Christian Church
2500 University Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50310
Monday, November 25, 2019
4:00 PM - 7:00 PM
First Christian Church
2500 University Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50310
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
11:00 AM


First Christian Church
2500 University Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50311
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland
818 - 5th Avenue Suite 200
Des Moines, Iowa United States 50309