Jennifer Terman

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February 27, 2013
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Community mourns death of dedicated activist

Western Nevada County has lost a dedicated, longtime nonprofit organizer and activist, as John Zwerver, 71, died early Wednesday morning following a brain infection.

Zwerver was the executive director of the Western Nevada County branch of the Red Cross, of several large nonprofit organizations in Canada, an organizational development specialist and a consultant to the Canadian government.

He also was an active member of Sierra College choir and Sierra Masters Chorale, said his widow, Carolyn Anderson, who co-directed Global Family, an educational peace organization, with Zwerver.

“The mission statement is to support a shift in consciousness from separation and fear to unity and love since 1990,” Anderson said, adding that Zwerver was also co-founder of Hummingbird Community in New Mexico, a project of Global Family, to help people achieve personal and spiritual growth and development.

Zwerver also traveled to the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, South America, to support individuals to find a deeper calling in life, Anderson said.

“He was involved in joint projects to end the Cold War in the early 1990s before the collapse of Communism,” Anderson said. “We were taking groups of citizen diplomats to do joint projects with Soviets and in Europe and South and North America. He was conducting training in a process to support individuals to find their deeper calling in life.”

Zwerver was also a chaplain at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, and active in Concert Sierra, a choir group, and Hospitality House, the leading nonprofit for homeless resources in the area.

“He worked for us as a project manager when we first started working toward getting our own building,” said Cindy Maple, executive director of Hospitality House. “He was also a member of our local Continuum of Care collaborative, a committee of people typically involved with working with homeless people, and he kind of spearheaded our 10-year countywide plan to end homelessness. He was a kind and good man.”

Zwerver was born Oct. 30, 1942, in Holland and emigrated to Friesland, Canada, when he was 9. He moved to the United States in 1991 and lived in Marin County with Anderson, until they married Oct. 30, 1994, and moved to Nevada City in 1999.

“He was a very high integrity, a very brilliant person,” Anderson said.

Zwerver is survived by his children from a previous relationship, son Dave Davies and daughter Shauna Whittall.

Zwerver appointed Jim O’Brien to the board of the Western Nevada County Red Cross when he served as executive director several years ago.

“He actually recruited me to join the board, which I was happy to do because I knew John was a very extraordinary man with many talents; and if he were working with the Red Cross, that would be a good place for me to serve,” O’Brien said.

“It’s hard to begin to describe what an extraordinary man he was. As the executive director, he was a real leader. He was inspirational, highly organized, and a very quiet, assertive kind of guy because he was so confident in a leadership role.”

Zwerver battled an undiagnosed condition for three years, but maintained poise and a good spirit, O’Brien said.

“He went from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, during all of this time, I was so amazed at his ability to just kind of soldier on and always feeling ‘We don’t know what this is and I’m just going through another bout’ and he’d laugh,” O’Brien said. “Although he was suffering physically, you would never know it.”

The way Zwerver lived his life was something to be admired, O’Brien said.

“He was a kind of leader that I was inspired by and wanted to follow,” O’Brien said.

“He had a very deep faith and although I wouldn’t say I thought of him as a priest because he was a natural minister, in the way he dealt with people, so helping people was just simply a part of his nature. It was just the way he was. I’m going to miss him.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

““He was a kind of leader that I was inspired by and wanted to follow.”
Jim O’Brien, on John Zwerver

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The Union Updated Feb 28, 2013 12:16AM Published Mar 3, 2013 01:42PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.