In the 1890’s organ building was in full swing on the European continent, especially in the Netherlands. Cornel Zimmer’s great-grandfather of the first generation, Bernard Pels, established the Pels Organ Company in 1893 in the renowned village of Alkmaar. Over the next four generations, Bernard’s descendants have dedicated their lives to continuing the proud tradition begun by this visionary man, making a name for themselves from Europe to South Africa and finally to the United States of America. Cornel’s cousin, Gerard, maintains this tradition in Europe to this day.
Cornel’s grandfather Wilhelm Zimmer, from Aachen, Germany, married Bernard’s daughter, Annie and became intimately involved with the art of organ building. Cornel’s father, Franz, was born in Alkmaar in 1936. n 1940 Wilhelm Zimmer was unwillingly drafted into the German army and sent to the Russian front where he served as a driver of various vehicles. He was captured by the Russians in 1945 and spent one year in a prison camp before being released and allowed to return to Holland and to the art of organ building.
After the war, Wilhelm felt it prudent for his family to move to South Africa and, hence, took over the management of the organ department of a large firm there. His responsibilities involved mainly the importation of new organs from Europe (England, Germany and Holland) as well as maintenance and refurbishing of existing instruments on the African continent. He eventually bought the company and, with two of his sons, Franz and Ben, built the company to a point where they were building new instruments in addition to importing them. This company did business as The Mueller Organ Company out of Potchefstroom, South Africa (near Johannesburg). They were responsible for the installation of nearly 400 grand pipe organs in South Africa. Cornel Zimmer was born in South Africa in 1961.
By 1964, the Zimmer family decided that is was prudent to leave South Africa for the greener pastures of America. With the help of two of Wilhelm’s brothers already living in the United States, they were able to acquire visas and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in May of 1964. It was here where they established W. Zimmer & Sons, Inc. They became citizens in 1971.
Cornel, the son of Franz Zimmer, was constantly involved with the family business, growing up in the early years, from helping to sweep out the shop on weekends to helping tune and voice organs during summer vacations and school holidays. More than two decades ago, in 1981, Cornel Zimmer was encouraged to postpone his architectural and accounting degrees in college to work full time at the organ factory where he initially concentrated on tonal work. In 1984, Cornel spent several weeks working in the voicing department of Carl Giesecke & Sohn pipemakers in Gottingen, Germany. He also became heavily involved in the American Institute of Organbuilders (AIO) and the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA) of which W. Zimmer & Sons was a member. In 1990, Cornel Zimmer, as the representative from W. Zimmer & Sons, was elected to serve as Vice President of APOBA.
As part of his APOBA responsibilities, Cornel was also asked to serve on a committee to actively promote the pipe organ over the electronic organ. At this point, he began a study of the merits of the newer technology specifically that provided by the Walker Technical Company. Cornel found clear advantages this technology presents. The use of such digital voices can be utilized to flesh out an instrument that may have otherwise been substandard because of space and money constraints. In confined spaces it does not make sense to crowd pipe organs as they tend to get in their own way tonally and can be a nightmare to service and maintain. In each and every project Cornel carefully utilizes the artistry of European pipe organbuilding and combines it with this new age of technology to create a paramount organ that will support worship and be enjoyed for many years to come.