Dr. James “Jimmie” G. Zoll, 75, a retired Army officer, Vietnam veteran, and lifelong educator, died after a brief illness on May 7, 2023 with his family by his side in San Diego, CA. Born in Buffalo, New York, he attended St. Francis High School in Hamburg, NY before receiving his B.A. from St. Francis College (now University of New England) in Biddeford, Maine where he later served as a Trustee for 16 years.
Jim accomplished much in his life but what people really remember is his smile. A smile that literally could light up a room. His spirit. His mentoring. His optimism. His belief that you could do anything. Absolutely anything if you believe you can. His hugs were notorious; his laughter quick to come and infectious. His love of life. His charm. His playfulness. His whimsy. His love of babies – often called the baby whisperer because of his ability to hold and love and calm just about any little one. His generosity – if you commented on his tie or his ball cap, he took it off and gave it to you with great affection.
He taught a multitude of children (and maybe an adult or two) how to shake hands. “Grab my hand like you’re falling off a cliff! Now, look me in the eye. What color are my eyes? That’s how you shake hands.”
“How YOU doin’?” was a favorite, familiar phrase, just a bigger Fonzie.
He had a big world but a bigger heart. He had so many “adopted” or “bonus” children (big or small) and grandchildren whom he considered his own and loved them as his own. And there was always room for one more around the table or on his lap.
Without hesitation, his absolute greatness joy in life, above and beyond all else, were his children. His pride in Cory and Chelsea and their spouses, Jenine and Tyler, was beyond compare. He marveled at everything they did and was always waiting to celebrate the latest achievement, no matter how big or small. And then came the grandchildren! Ethan, Sadie, Quinten, and Shane. They were Papa’s everything. Absolutely his everything. As was his wife, Sally Ann. She never doubted for one second his enduring love for her and his belief in her ability to accomplish anything she put her mind to. And she did, as did thousands of others whom he pushed to achieve dreams they didn’t even know they had.
Jim served 22 years in the Army in active and active reserves. He was a decorated combat veteran receiving the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry W/Crossed Palms. He graduated from the USASA Electronic Warfare and Cryptology Intelligence School, US Army Intelligence School Career Course, Special Operations Command Counterinsurgency Intelligence School, DOD Foreign Language School, the USMC Command and General Staff College, and the Department of Defense Race Relations Institute.
While serving in Vietnam, he volunteered at an orphanage/leprosarium for deaf children during down time, and became passionate about deaf education. He returned home to attend Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts and received a Master’s Degree in Deaf Education. He began his civilian career as a teacher of multiple handicapped Deaf and Hard of Hearing students at Rochester School for the Deaf in Rochester, New York. Thus, from his military service in Vietnam, began his love and dedication to education.
In 1978, he visited an Army buddy in San Diego and immediately fell in love with the sunshine and warm weather. He attended the University of San Diego and received a second Master’s Degree in Education Administration and immediately got a job as Assistant Principal at Torrey Pines High School in Del Mar, California.
In 1980, he was selected the first lay person to serve as Principal of University of San Diego High School. He earned a doctorate in Educational Administration from the University of San Diego, married Sally Ann, and became principal of Coronado Middle School. He also served as Principal of Imperial High School and Valley Center Middle School before being named Superintendent of Julian Union High School District. He thought he was finishing his education career when he became Principal of St Helena High School, in St. Helena, CA in 2004 but was persuaded to teach Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in San Diego Unified School District as his final position, retiring in 2015. A career certainly come full circle.
He received numerous awards including Superintendent of the Year and Outstanding Administrator of the Year. He was a Vice President of Coronado Little League and a Cub Scout Master. He served as a Board Member of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Developmental Services, was Chairperson of the City of Coronado Strategic Planning Committee, and a Board Member of the Coronado Schools Foundation.
He was passionate about his 8 years as a Trustee for the Coronado Library Board and visited it weekly, reading almost a book a day. Without fail, he would ask anyone he met “what are you reading”?
He has been a member of the Coronado Optimists for over 25 years, serving as President of the Coronado Chapter as well as LT Governor and Governor of Optimists SoCal District 41. He was a founding member of the Coronado Community Church. For the past five years, he served on Congressman Scott Peters’ Service Academy Board.
We want Jim’s legacy of love and laughter and hope and optimism to continue to live on. Please remember him and pay that legacy forward with all whom you meet. That will be the best tribute to his amazing life.
Because of his passion for education and reading, and his service to our country, gifts may be made in his memory to the Friends of the Coronado Library https://www.coronadofol.org/ or United Through Reading, the non-profit organization that provides reading opportunities for military families which was led by his wife, Sally Ann, for 16 years. https://unitedthroughreading.org/about/.
A memorial service will be held at Christ Episcopal Church, 1114 9th St, Coronado, CA at 10:00 am on Wednesday, June 14.
VOL. 113, NO. 21 - May 24, 2023
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