Little did Lee Zimmerman guess he would walk into a December Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA) meeting and emerge as president of the umbrella organization that represents an estimated 25,000 homeowners in Kendall.
“But that’s how it happened,” grinned the lanky West Kendall resident whose sudden Jan. 10 succession to 15-year KFHA president Miles Moss surprised Kendall activists and more than a few county officials.
“The step is long overdue,” reported Moss who then handed the gavel to Zimmerman. “It was time for new faces and a fresh approach to help the organization grow.”
An admitted newcomer to KFHA affairs, Zimmerman explained, “I took more interest in the federation last year when MDX [Miami-Dade Expressway Authority] began charging tolls for the previous freely traveled Shula (SR 874) and Snapper Creek (SR 878) Kendall expressways.
“Before then, most people only knew me as a guy who would stand up and gripe about how government ignores citizen complaints. Last September I really let loose at the ‘Roll Back the Tolls’ movement against MDX.”
That outspokenness led Zimmerman to be invited to a December KFHA Board of Governors meeting when, in closed session, his name was put forward to replace Moss as president.
“Somebody said ‘How can you do that? He’s not even a board member,’” Zimmerman recalled. “So they voted me on the board and then elected me president.”
At the same meeting, Don Kearns, Kendall advertising executive, was elected external vice president, replacing Lawrence Percival who had long assisted Moss in running KFHA. Both Moss and Percival remain board members today.
“The changeover was inspired to a great degree by Michael Rosenberg who took over membership and is doing a great job getting new people to attend meetings and become active,” Zimmerman added. “It’s really an effort to get Kendall a bigger voice in government and, to that end, we plan more meetings to ask officials to answer our concerns and take them to heart.”
Comfortable addressing a crowd, Zimmerman attributes his built-in informality to “growing up with a generation of hippies who had a laid-back style in the ’60s and ’70s, but still spoke their minds.
“That was also the way life on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands where my folks had moved from an ultra-conservative Dallas culture to start a new business,” he recalled. “Then, back in Texas for my freshman year at SMU, long hair and all, I was just out of touch with a very conservative campus culture.”
The result was a transfer to the University of Miami, “to stay nearer my family and live in a freer, more expressive atmosphere.”
It’s also where he pursued freelance writing and radio broadcasting, attending classes with Miami’s Community Newspapers columnist Al Sunshine and getting a degree in mass communications.
For nearly 20 years, Zimmerman’s combined love of pop music and writing included publishing freelance articles and record reviews while working as an ABC records promotion man, even opening his own record store.
“Remember Viscount Records across from UM in Coral Gables? Should have been ‘Discount Records,’ but you know the Gables, they’d never allow a sign like that,” he chuckled. “It was a great dream but it only lasted a year.”
For the past nine years, Zimmerman’s writing and public relations skills have served CBS4 (WFOR) as director of communications, a position he self-deprecates as “getting the anchors to do good things in the community.”
“But I love the business,” he interjected. “I get a thrill, just watching newscasts.”
In his spare hours, Zimmerman relaxes in a multi-level West Kendall home where his “music room” holds thousands of shelved LP records and CDs. A gold “million-dollar seller” of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville hangs in his office alongside posters, celebrity photos and “pop” music memoirs.
His wife, Alisa, a mathematics teacher at Rockway Middle School for 31 years, and the couple’s two sons — Chris, 25, and Kyle, 23 — complete the family along with Pookie, a shaggy mop of “uncertain heritage” and Britney, a loveable mutt.
With them, Zimmerman reflects on his role as KFHA president by quoting Robert Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
“I’ve always loved that quotation,” Zimmerman said. “It’s the spirit we hope to inject in a new life for KFHA.”