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William J.'s Story

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William Junior Zwemke, 85, passed away peacefully, Monday October 9, 2017 at Baystate Medical Center, in the company of family members.
William was born September 26, 1932 in Alta, Iowa, the son of William Henry and Inez (Tuttle) Zwemke. He was the eighth of 10 children. He was also known as Bill, Junior or Zeke. He was an accomplished athlete, earning a multitude of medals and trophies in track, football and basketball. Bill was a starting player and major contributor to the very successful Alta High School basketball team. He sang bass in a barbershop quartet and worked nights and weekends at Peterson’s Department Store. One of his first tasks was candling eggs. He was paid 10 cents for each 30 dozen eggs he processed. He also milked cows, picked green beans, detasseled corn and worked with his father dynamiting tree stumps and drainage ditches and on a road building crew. Bill’s father died when Bill was 15 and he was proud to be able to contribute to the family income and assumed the role of father figure to his younger siblings at home.

While working several different types of jobs, he finished high school and went on to play college basketball at Iowa State University and Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa, graduating with a bachelor’s degree. He worked part-time at Buena Vista Hospital while in college and started full time after graduation. His career in health care started then and he advanced from mopping floors, washing hospital laundry and maintenance to the eventual Director of General Services. He had a special knack for caring about people and made sure patients and co-workers were looked after.

He was recruited to the east coast by a co-worker and assumed duties at Franklin County Public Hospital in Greenfield, MA, eventually advancing to Administrator and COO. During his time at FCPH, Bill also attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio to complete both a Masters’ Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s in Hospital Administration. He flew home to Western Massachusetts every weekend to continue his duties at the hospital and be with his family.

In 1976, he became the CEO/President of Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, Mass. In 1984, Bill advanced to Fellowship status in the American College of Hospital Administrators, one of their most prestigious designations, and ultimately became a Life Fellow. He was active and instrumental in many changes at Mary Lane, including the negotiation and eventual merger with Baystate Health Systems in 1991. He retired from Mary Lane in 1995 and devoted his time to fishing, gardening and especially supporting the high school, AAU and collegiate basketball careers of his two daughters. He was also a substitute teacher in the Ware Public School system, worked on school-parent committees and was a volunteer instructor in the Junior Achievement program in Ware schools.

As a former athlete, Bill was an avid sports fan. As a Midwestern boy, his favorite teams were St. Louis Cardinals baseball and Chicago Bears football. His support of these teams continued in both good and bad seasons throughout his life, despite living in Massachusetts.

One of the joys of his life was his weekend home on the ocean in Gloucester, fishing, clamming and also pulling lobster traps with his commercial license. He enjoyed working with his hands and made many improvements in both the Gloucester and Ware properties. Bill and his wife, Katharine, held countless gatherings and generously shared his catch of lobsters, clams, mussels and fish with family, friends and visitors from as far away as Germany and Australia. He held special dinners for the hospital staff and Auxiliary personnel, as well as, appreciation dinners for the Ware Police and Fire Departments.
In 2012, the family home in Ware burned completely to the ground and the Ware fire department and police were instrumental in saving whatever possessions possible. The home was rebuilt on the same foundation and Bill and Katharine continued to enjoy and appreciate their life in Ware for five more years.

Bill was predeceased by two daughters, Mara Joan Schmehl and Arla Jene Zwemke, his parents and eight siblings, Laverne Fogleman, Dorothy Fagerholm, Arlene Zwemke, Donald Zwemke, Bud Zwemke, Darrell Zwemke, Beverly Lichtenberg and Shirley George.
He is survived by his wife, Katharine; his brother, Larry Zwemke of Emmetsburg, Iowa; five children, Tera Coull (Gary) of Vassalboro, Maine, William Z. Zwemke of Gloucester, Deia Johnson of Mesa, Ariz., Ingrid Chase (Lee) of Worcester, MA and Donna Priddie (Gregg) of San Diego, CA and his former wife, Arlene Zwemke of Mesa, AZ. He had 13 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. He especially loved to spend time with the youngest of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and would also stop to admire babies and young children wherever he saw them in public.
A memorial service will be held November 11th at the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield. Calling hours will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with a private family session thereafter. During this time, a remembrance of his life and an acknowledgement of his commitment to his family, the community of Ware and the legacy of Mary Lane Hospital will occur. If you plan to attend the memorial, please RSVP to wjzwemke@gmail.com or call 413-219-7569.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity of your choice.
Published on  October 19, 2017
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