Don Zimmerman—pharmacist, businessman, hunter and fisherman, beloved citizen of the Key Peninsula community—is a workhorse. He has never shied away from long hours. His drive has taken him from poverty to business success, but he is far more proud of the people who work with him than he is of his own accomplishments.
Zimmerman spent his early years in Ephrata and moved with his parents and sister to Bremerton at age 7. Initially they lived in West Park government-subsidized housing. A few years after arriving in Bremerton, the family income improved, and they moved to a two-bedroom place that they improved themselves over time.
“I had tremendous parents. My mother was a waitress and my father worked in the shipyard. Neither of them graduated from high school,” he said. “My mom had worked as a scrub lady in New York and my father was in the Navy. They were German-Polish and had a strong work ethic.”
Zimmerman attributes his work ethic to his parents. If his friends came over and he had chores to do—which included caring for a large yard, with chickens and 14 rows of strawberries; and chopping wood —his friends helped him first before going to the movies.
A West Bremerton High School graduate, Zimmerman planned to become a dentist, but that plan was derailed. When he experienced his first heartbreak, he left Washington State University abruptly, and as a result had a string of Fs on his transcript. He joined the Marines and served as a reservist for six years.
When he was ready to return to college, he found out that the pharmacy school accepted all applicants.
“The problem is that I knew I could get in, but there was a 90 percent flunk-out rate,” he said. “I was apprehensive because it required five years of chemistry.”
Dentistry’s loss would become pharmacy’s gain.
Zimmerman worked through college, which made studying a challenge. He said it was hard to comprehend things when you’re tired.
“I would work all night at Universal Car Loading and get off at 7. Biochemistry class started at 7:30 so I’d drive to campus, violating every speeding law,” he recalled. “I’d sleep on the sidewalk in between classes. The sidewalk was dry, and I figured people could walk around me.”
He graduated in 1969 and married Kathryn McDonald the following year. They have three children and eight grandchildren between the ages of two and 28.
After working in Seattle at Payless Drugs, he transferred to Harold Meyer Drugs in Tacoma.
“Mrs. Meyer told me I was too good of a pharmacist to be working for them and that I should go on my own,” he said. “I asked for advice from a pharmacy owner in the area and he mentioned Purdy as a good location.”
For the next six months, he worked three full-time jobs to raise money to purchase an inventory for his own business. He opened Purdy Pharmacy in 1971.
“In 1971, there weren’t a lot of people coming here. There were no freeways heading toward Tacoma,” he said. “At first, I did everything—I scrubbed the floors, opened the till and cleaned the toilets.”
He worked six days a week at his pharmacy, and then spent 12 hours at Harold Meyer Drugs on Sundays to support his growing family. His business took off when a liquor store opened in Purdy, increasing traffic to the area.
In 1977, because of increasing lease costs, Zimmerman decided it was time to own his own building. He bought 30 acres with Mike Salatino and opened Purdy Cost Less Pharmacy at Lake Kathryn Village in 1984. Zimmerman speaks with pride and affection about his employees, and the feeling is mutual.
Penny Goddard, who has worked at the pharmacy for 12 years, said, “He’s one of the most generous business owners in the community. He always tries to look after the best interest of the customer, no matter what. … I think any of us would do just about anything for him. He’s the best person I have ever worked for. He is loved by so many people in this community—he has done so much.”
Many customers have been patrons of the pharmacy for more than 30 years. The pharmacy has provided financial assistance to those who can’t afford to pay, and has supplied drugs at cost to the Key Center Free Clinic and to Dr. Bill Roes’s medical mission work in Central America.
Pharmacy technician Debra Jean Torgeson has made home visits to help frail homebound clients and drops prescriptions off to those with transportation problems. Pharmacist Ian Warren delivers prescriptions to people in Tacoma on his way home and works with AIDS Housing in Tacoma.
“People do things for the community because the community is good to us,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman’s business interests go beyond the pharmacy. In 2013, Peninsula Hair Design, across the street, was going to close and the manager approached Zimmerman with a proposal, “He took it and ran with it,” said Krissi Hamilton, current manager of Salon 302. “It was important to him that the salon be affordable and luxurious. He wants us all to succeed. He is on our side to make sure we have what we want and need. He is the best person I have ever worked for.”
Zimmerman’s father instilled a love of fishing and hunting at an early age. They fished in lakes from the time he was small.
“We had cane poles, tied a string around them and I’d sit on the bank. It was all good,” he said. “My dad always wanted to go to Alaska, but we didn’t have the income. When he died at 47, I always thought I wanted to go to Alaska for my dad. I first went about 20-30 years ago, and I loved it. Now I go a couple of times a year.”
When he was 10, his father would take him out of school to hunt.
“He would take two weeks off from the Navy Yard every year. The first week was deer hunting and the second week was elk hunting.” Zimmerman said. “He went with a large group of guys and some would go for just one week. I would go for one week to hunt deer and then someone would bring me home. It was one of the best memories of my dad.”
He goes elk hunting once a year and says that the taste of an elk hamburger can’t be beat.
Hamilton said she doesn’t think Zimmerman will ever retire. He said that if anything does drive him to quit, it will be Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PMBs). Insurance companies, to drive down health care costs, have hired PMBs to manage prescription costs. They have had a big impact on independent pharmacies, and sometimes the reimbursement for a prescription doesn’t actually cover the cost of filling it.
Zimmerman’s love for his work—and for the people he works with—will keep him at the pharmacy for the foreseeable future.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS