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In Arts & Entertainment

Richard Marquis' exquisite glass work.

Zimmer's reunion with parents inspires gallery show


Ten years ago, Mike Zimmer – who was adopted as a baby – connected with his biological parents. It wasn't something he planned to do his entire life, but around the age of 35, with the encouragement of a friend and the help of Catholic Social Services, Zimmer met Johannna and Bob.

"My biological parents were both students at Madison. I was a love child of the '60s," says Zimmer, who once owned Zim's sports bar in Downtown Milwaukee.

Today, Zimmer's biological mother lives with her husband, Richard Marquis, on Whidbey Island in Washington. Zimmer's biological father, Bob, lives in Chicago.

The couple are artists – Joanna works in watercolor / assemblages and Richard is a glass artist. After years of thinking about it, Zimmer organized a showing of their work at Translator Milwaukee, 415 E. Menomonee St., on Friday, Jan. 17 in conjunction with Gallery Night.

"This is a unique opportunity for people in Milwaukee to see this kind of art," says Zimmer. "This is also a way for me to show them off and reinforce to them that what they do is really interesting and a big deal to me."

Richard's work has been compared to glass master Dale Chihuly and has been featured in galleries around the world, including Venice, Australia, Chicago and Seattle. Richard and Johanna have been creating together for 30 years.

Zimmer says meeting his biological parents has been extremely interesting for many reasons, particularly because they have a lot in common.

"It's the nature vs. nurture thing," he says.

For example, Johanna is really into gardening, as is Zimmer. Hence, when they reconnected for the first time since Zimmer's birth, they met under a tree in the Madison Arboretum. He says it was a very emotional reunion that left tear stains on his shirt sleeve.

"It was such a huge weight off her shoulders to know that I was out there and I was OK," says Zimmer.

Zimmer's biological father, Bob, came a few hours later to the arboretum.

"I call him Bio Bob," says Zimmer, chuckling. "And when he came walking down the path, he had the exact same walk as I do. The same weird little shuffle."

The Madison meeting, however, was not a reunion for Johanna and Bob. They kept in contact over the years and spoke to each other on the phone every year on Zimmer's birthday to recognize the life of the little boy they named Benjamin. Also, Johanna kept a journal that she wrote in every year on Zimmer's birthday.

"Neither of them went on to have more children," says Zimmer.

Zimmer grew up in Wauwatosa with his parents and two siblings, neither of whom were adopted. His parents, he says, were beyond supportive when he told them about his plans to locate his biological parents.

"They never pressured me, but when I told them what I was going to do, they said they wondered why it took so long," says Zimmer.

Since the initial meeting, Zimmer's adoptive parents and biological parents have gotten to know each other through spending extended time together.

"Now Johanna and Bob are an extension to our family, and I make more calls on mother's day and father's day," says Zimmer.


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