By Steve Dinnen
Larry Zimpleman was always good with math. Good enough that it got him into Drake University, studying actuarial science. Good enough that it landed him a job interning at Principal Financial Group while still a student, and then full time when he graduated. Good enough that he used those collective college and math skills to work his way to the executive floor at Principal – the only company he ever worked for as an adult – before retiring from there as CEO and chairman in 2015 and 2016.
So Zimpleman, the son of a letter carrier in Williamsburg, Iowa, and the first person in his family to graduate from college, has long believed in the power of education. Now he and his wife, fellow Drake grad Kathleen, let education be the focus of their philanthropic efforts as they spend their retirement years living in rural Des Moines. A leading cause has been, not surprisingly, alma mater Drake, which the Zimplemans not only have supported financially (a $1 million gift prior to 2012) but where Larry serves as a trustee. That included a stint as chairman of the board of trustees starting in 2012.
“The first [goal] is to help create more globally aware citizenry,” Larry Zimpleman said. “It’s always harder to be angry or upset with someone you’ve met.”
So the Zimplemans set up scholarships at both Drake and Iowa Sister States to “allow young people to have global experiences that are life-changing for them,” he said.
Those scholarships are named in honor of their son, Jeff, an intrepid world traveler who by age 36 had visited 30 countries. A favored spot was Germany, where Jeff died in 2014 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Drake and Iowa Sister States serve as middlemen, as it were, for scholarship dollars granted by the Zimplemans. Their other philanthropic causes use a different middleman, United Way.
Larry Zimpleman said United Way does a good job of vetting organizations. “They don’t just give money to nonprofits,” he said. “They have to go through quite an exercise to qualify.” By his way of thinking, United Way applies metrics to nonprofits that make them be more efficient and stay true to their stated mission.