MUSCATINE - Just about everyone in Muscatine knew how much Gerry "Zip" Zimmerman loved Christmas.

For many Muscatine residents, driving by his Lazy Z ranch at 2402 Isett Ave. to view the grand display of holiday lights and decorations was an annual delight.

It was a tradition Gerry inherited from his mother, Helen Zimmerman, who began building lighted Christmas displays from common, household objects in the 1940s.

"I know age will start catching up with me in a couple of years," Zimmerman said in a 2008 Muscatine Journal story. "But I will always have a manger scene in my front yard until the day I die."

He was true to his word.

Bonnie Zimmerman, his wife of 47 years, said Gerry, 74, put up his display for the final time several days before he died Sunday.

His family doesn't yet know the cause of his unexpected death, said Bonnie, who is awaiting results of an autopsy.

She said her husband lit this year's display on Thanksgiving evening.

It was the conclusion of a memorable day, said Bonnie. The couple's daughter, Tricia Johnson of Blue Springs, Mo., and their son, Kurt Zimmerman of Muscatine, brought their families to Bonnie and Gerry's home for the holiday.

The Zimmermans' grandson, Zane Zimmerman, 15, of Muscatine helped put up the lights while another grandson, Nathaniel Johnson, 6, played outside.

"We had a really good time," Bonnie said.

Gerry Zimmerman's Christmas light show expanded after his mother died in the late 1980s, said Jean Seefeldt, his neighbor since 1972.

For many years, Gerry helped his mother and father, Phil Zimmerman, decorate their house in Wilton.

"After his mother died, he brought all those lights to his house and began putting them up," Seefeldt said.

After retiring from Monsanto, where he worked for 35 years, Zimmerman enjoyed caring for the Lazy Z and became wel- known for his gardening expertise and willingness to give advice.

"If you had a question, he had an answer," said Jean's husband, Steve Seefeldt. "He was my neighborhood buddy."

The Seefeldts said they know their good friend will be missed by many who never met him, but enjoyed his holiday decorations.

Lynn Schuur of Muscatine didn't know Zimmerman, but she shared the appreciation of many.

"He's warmed my family's heart over the years by sharing all of his holiday themes and lights," said Schuur. "During his most spectacular time of the year - Christmas - there would be cars stopped along Isett."

Having the light display in place this year is a comfort, Zimmerman's wife said

"People will have a whole month to look at it," she said Wednesday evening. "We'll light it all through December."

Neighbor Judi Cooley said Gerry's display was always appreciated, and this year will be no different.

"He has contributed wonderful holiday displays every year for many years," said Cooley. "He decorated his property from one end to the other ... it has been a beautiful thing to see each year."