Obituary: William Zilm | PostIndependent.com
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Obituary: William Zilm

William Martin Zilm January 21, 1929 – June 18, 2020

William Martin Zilm passed in his sleep in the early morning hours of June 18 with his wife Charlotte Bea by his side. He had battled orthostatic hypertension and worsening dementia for some time. They had been married an exciting 66 years. A visionary, inventor, developer and optometrist, Bill was happiest as a family man and fisherman. It was fitting he left us on National Go Fishing Day.

Bill was born to Charles Robert and Rose Marie Zilm on a homestead in Olds, Alberta. He was preceded in death by both his older brother Robert (1940) and his younger sister Marie (2008). Although the farm had survived the Great Depression, the family found themselves unable to recover when their home was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 1941. They relocated to Des Moines to live closer to Rose’s family, where they would have a roof over their heads and Charles could secure work.

William had a colorful youth. He worked at Younkers department store and used his earnings to take flying lessons, obtaining a pilot’s license at the age of 16. He attended North High in Des Moines, and just before what would have been his senior year enlisted in the US Navy in the summer of 1946. Bill trained on the west coast prior to shipping out to serve in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Two years after his enlistment he was discharged and returned to his family. Bill studied construction management on the G.I. Bill for a year at Denver University, where he fell in love with the mountains of Colorado.

Moving back to Des Moines, he continued his studies in actuarial science at Drake University. Bill’s younger sister, Marie, introduced him to Charlotte Norstrum one night at home when her friends dropped in to take her to a movie. Bill had just gotten out of the shower and was sitting at the kitchen table in his bathrobe. She was smitten and he never had a chance, and they were married on Christmas Eve in 1953. A few years later they had two sons, Kurt William (b. 1955) and Mark Robert (b. 1958).

Bill supported his family by investing in land, building spec houses and working in the family business, but he wanted a more challenging career. In 1960 he was admitted to the Southern College of Optometry, and the family relocated to Memphis. Bill studied while his wife worked and his boys started grade school. Elected as president of his class, Bill graduated with his doctorate in optometry in 1964. He returned to Des Moines, establishing a vision clinic at the Still College of Osteopathy.

After only a year back in Iowa, Bill and Charlotte followed their dream to relocate the family to Colorado, briefly living in Denver before finally settling in Glenwood Springs in the fall of 1965. The practice started small, with Bill also seeing patients part-time in Aspen. Bill served as president of the hospital board at a time when that was a volunteer position, and recruited many physicians to practice in the area. As the area grew, so did the optometry practice and the optical business, eventually leading to the establishment of 20/20 Eyecare. The business continues to thrive today under the guidance of Bill’s son, Mark, who followed in his father’s footsteps as an optometrist.

At the same time as he was building a successful optical business, Bill invested in land and he developed the Sunlight I and Sunlight II subdivisions on Fourmile Creek. While Bill retired in 1994, he really never quit working. He continued to finish the Sunlight II subdivision, and was also a successful inventor, patenting several profitable trailer hitch designs licensed by Reese.

When he was not working, Bill most enjoyed spending his time fishing with his wife and extended family. As a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Bill was able to own a fishing camp on Laird Lake in northern Saskatchewan, accessible only by float plane. Bill and his friends and family would spend several weeks each year there when the ice went out in the spring, and again before the lake froze over in the fall, fishing for lake trout and northern pike. Those days with Charlotte, his sons and grandchildren were some of his fondest memories.

Bill is survived by the love of his life Charlotte, his wife for 66 years. His youngest son, Mark, a long-time resident of Glenwood Springs, is married to Phyllis. Their children, Nick, Sarai and Kenna, all sorely miss Bill, the best grandpa ever. Bill is also survived by his older son Kurt who lives in Connecticut with his wife Velma, and their six adult children who have moved to every corner of the U.S. Charles, Katie, Emily, Michael, Lauren and Johnathon, will never forget fishing and hiking and target shooting and horseback riding with their beloved Grandpa Bill. All are thankful that Bill lived to see the addition of four great-grandchildren to the family; Lydia, Martin, Alexys and Isaac. The family feels especially fortunate to have gathered everyone together to celebrate Bill’s 90th birthday in 2019.

Given travel restrictions during the pandemic, Bill will be remembered at a virtual service at a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, please make a contribution to your favorite charity.


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