John Spevak: Remembering Faye

September 4, 2013 

— What makes her death so hard to comprehend is that she seemed indestructible.

When I heard about Faye Zimmerman's death earlier this month, it took me awhile to believe it. From the day I met her almost 40 years ago, she was a person who could meet and overcome almost any challenge.

It seemed as though everyone who lived in Los Banos in the 1970s, '80s, or '90s knew Faye, as well as her husband Bill and their daughters Rhonda and Joy.

Faye and Bill were active in their church and in their community, including youth sports. One of their many talents was their ability to encourage kids and adults to succeed.

Their home on Pennsylvania Avenue was a place any person could stop by, and many persons did. Faye and Bill made all visitors feel welcome.

For being such a kind and encouraging woman, Faye could also be very outspoken. In fact, if you listened to herfor even a few minutes, you'd know exactly where she stood on any issue.

Faye was a student in my English class at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College in the 1970s. When I first met her, I didn't quite know what to make of her.

Here was a woman with a husband and two daughters returning to college. Already I admired her initiative. That was only the beginning. I soon realized that Faye was the student who asked the most questions and volunteered the most opinions.

But she didn't dominate. Her participation in class was designed to encourage others to participate, to get them thinking, talking, and discussing. As the semester unfolded, she became, effortlessly and naturally, the class mom.

The papers she turned in were extraordinary. Written in precise penmanship, they were thoughtful, detailed, well argued, and interesting. She may have been the best writer I encountered in two decades of teaching.

I was drawn to Faye and Bill outside the classroom as well. They made me and my family feel as though we were very special.

I can vividly remember one Halloween when my two oldest children were about four and six years old, walking with them in costume to the Zimmerman home. Faye welcomed them like celebrities.

But I soon realized Faye and Bill treated everyone like celebrities. They made people feel good about life and living in Los Banos.

One of the reasons kids of all ages liked visiting the Zimmerman home was that Faye and Bill were such good parents. They raised two of the most amazing women I know, Rhonda and Joy, who in turn have created warm and encouraging families of their own.

Both daughters displayed many talents. They were exceptional students and skilled athletes, especially in softball. Of course, Faye and Bill went to all of their games, and Bill put in many years of coaching.

In the 1970s it wasn't all that common for girls to play sports. But Faye and Bill believed that girls could do anything, in sports, in school, and in life. That's the way they raised their daughters, and that's the way the encouraged every girl they knew.

Faye had many medical challenges in her life. But she never complained. Her faith and hope sustained her, and her love brightened the lives of many people.

When my wife Susan was diagnosed with cancer, for example, Faye was one of the first persons knocking on our door, bringing a homemade meal and suggesting the best route to take from Los Banos to the UC Medical Center in San Francisco.

She also brought encouragement, and helped get Susan and me through some very anxious times. Somehow when you listened to Faye, who had so much optimism and determination, you felt you could get through anything.

Faye and Bill moved from Los Banos several years ago, but their legacy of community involvement and care for others has remained. The many people they have encouraged and helped are now helping others.

In her passing, Faye's spirit may be felt even more intensely. Her indomitable spirit is now set free from a body that often limited her movement. Now her spirit can move more easily among us, encouraging us and cheering us on to care deeply for others.

(Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent via email to

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