It takes Marian Zimmerman one day to knit a pair of mittens.
There are 20 pairs of them — one for every member of the family, and two extras — and each one is crimson. On the back there’s a white interlocked “I” and “U” creating the logo of her alma mater.
Marian graduated from Indiana in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish. In 1967 she earned her master’s degree in guidance and counseling, then returned again and got a degree in higher education administration in 1985.
Marian and her husband, Karl, both worked at IU-Purdue University Fort Wayne, but their love for Bloomington never faded. Each year they would bring the family back — sometimes to watch football games, sometimes to go hiking. Oftentimes, when the kids grew older and started attending Indiana themselves, it would coincide with a graduation or family weekend and every year it would include a trip to Mother Bear’s.
After missing last year’s season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family is finally getting together again. They’ll make the pilgrimage to Bloomington from around the country — Marian lives in Naples, Florida, and one of her grandchildren lives in New York — to watch Indiana football play Rutgers on Nov. 13.
Traveling to Indiana is a right of passage for the Zimmermans. For years, Bella Witte, the youngest granddaughter and a sophomore at Indiana, would come down to Bloomington from Fort Wayne with her grandmother and cousins.
Now that the family is all older, it’s harder to plan these trips to Bloomington. Danielle Zimmerman, a 2017 Indiana graduate, said the family’s schedules aligned around the Rutgers game with Thanksgiving shortly after, so they bought as many tickets as they could.
One year on a Disney cruise, Marian set up a secret Santa gift exchange where the family would buy candy for one another and follow a scavenger hunt to discover who their Santa was. Another year, a visit to her house in Naples, Florida, was marked with a week-long tournament of cards and sandcastle making.
This year, it’s Marian’s handmade IU mittens.
“I thought, by golly, here I am sat down just north of Naples in Florida, we’re going to freeze to death out there in November,” Marian said. “Then I thought, well, I can knit. So I think I have time that I can knit 20 pairs of mittens.”
Marian watched fans getting picked up on camera during Indiana football broadcasts and thought her family might get the same chance if they organized a cheer.
Danielle said she found out about the mittens at a cousin’s wedding.
“They’re so cute,” Danielle said. “And it’s just something I’ll get to keep forever from my grandma, so it’s really special.”
By the time Witte started applying to colleges, she was only interested in Indiana. Although her mother forced her to apply to a backup school, Witte didn’t need to take time for a decision once she got accepted at IU. Witte is just the latest of her family to attend the school, following Marian, Danielle and at least nine others.
“It was kind of like I either go to IU or I don’t want to go to school,” Witte said. “I’ve just always known IU for my whole life.”
The family wasn’t able to come together like they normally would last year because of the pandemic. Since Witte didn’t have the typical Family Weekend experience like Danielle did, they decided to move the celebration back a year. Witte said she will show her family her sorority house at Delta Phi Epsilon and they will likely make another trip to Mother Bear’s.
Of course, no Zimmerman trip to Bloomington would be complete without a visit to Memorial Stadium. They’ve gone every year, whether it’s for a football game or just for fun.
“I just think it will be really special having us all back in one place,” Danielle said. “And one of our favorite places for a lot of us, that will make it really special.”
If you look in the stands during the game, you’ll see them there — 18 members of the Zimmerman clan, each sporting an identical pair of hand-knit Indiana mittens.