A maven exits: Zierdt passes at 52

Former GMG CEO dies from cancer, leaves lasting legacy

David Bassey
Editor in Chief

An enthusiastic community-based organizational leader, photography aficionado, passionate about his community and work, an authentic man, full of love for all people. These are some of the words that describe the life of Jonathan Zierdt.

On Wednesday afternoon, Zierdt, 52 passed away at the Mankato Clinic after a long battle with prostate cancer. 

Known to many as JZ, Zierdt grew up in Spring Valley, near Rochester, to parents who were teachers. Although, he wanted to be a high school teacher and coach, he double majored in biology and secondary education with a minor at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. 

Zierdt took a career with the Boy Scouts of America for five years, then at the United Way till he was 30 years old. 

These leadership experiences prepared him for his next job at the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce, where he served passionately for the next three years.

Zierdt went on to start a consulting firm, retiring from the public sector, only for a while. He would later be called on again a year later to take the reigns at Mankato as then director of economic development and later helped form the Greater Mankato Growth.

Throughout his life and various career across various platforms, his personal mission had been to help make the community in which he lived a better place.

Some of the lessons that Zierdt’s life teaches us is to be patient and humble. Zierdt, who was the orchestrator of many economic developments in Mankato during the past 15 years, did not see himself as one. Rather, he saw himself as a section leader of probably the violin section; understanding the various interests that come into play when working towards a common goal.

Zierdt was a leader who let people work through things, especially when it involved multiple stakeholders.

Zierdt loved photography. Having taking one photography course with a film camera at the age of 16, he fell in love with the process of developing pictures. 

However, as his professional life set in, the camera went away. Even though it was dormant, it would resurface during his trip to Italy for the 25th wedding anniversary of him and his wife, Ginger. Producing images with outstanding composition, his favorite subjects were inanimate objects and animals.

During this time, he forgot about everything; the cancer, the pain, the struggle, the suffering, getting lost in the art for that moment in order to capture the whatever brilliance that was created.

Of all the discussions and encounters we have had with Zierdt, it was evident that he was always cognizant that people go through stuff and that it is important to care. “We’re all walking through life carrying backpacks full of stuff that’s weighing us down,” said Zierdt. 

Zierdt continued to live a life of service as he and Ginger, alongside over 30 community leaders, started the Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund. Its aim: To make the lives to those who are experiencing the cancer journey just a little bit better. Patients are provided with the JZ caring box loaded with a variety of materials, such as blankets, cookbooks, journals and something extra – love from a community that cares about you.

JZ Cancer Fund was chosen as the 2019 RAW Fusion fashion show’s charity of choice.  If students are looking for a way to support the JZ Cancer Fund, opportunities are available as volunteers at various activities such as the RAW Fusion fashion show, packing boxes and many more. 

Zierdt was an unbridled advocate for people to stay in this community; encouraging new residents to explore the area, get to know the community from a life perspective and truly understand that when you are here you can make a difference. He envisioned Mankato as a global community, a massive force, an epicenter for the growth in agriculture and bio-related business in the region based on the foundational roots as an agricultural community.

In the final months of his life, Zierdt highlighted two scriptures that brought him comfort. Jeremiah 29, verses 11-13 and Colossians 3, verses 23-24; living his life to give God glory, always aware it was his [God’s] prosperity, not his.

Although he won’t have to wake up each morning feeling the pain, he can rest knowing that he made the life of this community better each day. Even if you didn’t share his faith, it was clear that he cared about your well-being and hoped that there were things he could do to inspire people regardless of their faith.

Zierdt’s funeral arrangements are pending. However, memorial gifts made in Jonathan’s honor are preferred to the Jonathan Zierdt Cancer Fund of the Mankato Area Foundation.

Header illustration by Alyssa Bunde | MSU Reporter.

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