Friday, December 18, 2015
5:00 PM to 8:00 PM EST
Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
Alt & Shawmut Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Vigil Service at 7:30
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Henry F. Zeman was a loving husband, father and grandfather and a true professional. He taught himself photography and shared his art through the media as a photojournalist. Himself a fisher and hunter, Henry combined his passion for the out-of-doors and his talent in photography with his desire to tell the stories of real people, and he created a career that was also his lifelong pastime. Henry gladly shared his knowledge and experiences with others, and as a result, his granddaughter Jacquelyn Zeman was inspired to follow in his footsteps. The quotes in this Lifestory come from those rich moments spent between an aspiring and a veteran journalist, otherwise known as an adoring grandchild and a remarkable grandfather.
Henry Francis was born April 29, 1923 in Grand Rapids, Michigan to the late Frank and Apolonia Zeman, who emigrated from Poland. Foreshadowing his future career, young Hank bought his first camera, a Uni-Fex, when he was twelve. “I bought a very cheap camera. It was not very good at all, but I loved it. I would take pictures of my siblings and of the city to practice with it. To develop my film I made a dark room in my mother’s house off of Fulton Street.”
After graduating in 1942 from Davis Technical High School (now the Main Building of Grand Rapids Community College), Hank was drafted by the U.S. Navy. In February 1943, he was stationed in New York City as an X-ray technician, developing pictures for the Navy doctors. As a Pharmacist Mate First Class, he gained experience in photography, and his writing skills were further enhanced by the journalism courses he took while in St. Albans, New York. Hank also got to know a photographer from the Chicago Tribune named Ray Goa, who worked with him on his photography skills.
Henry’s three-year tour of duty took him to Japan, and at the time, his unit did not know they were on the island of Okinawa. They had been told they were going to build a hospital, and only later discovered that they would have been part of the invasion of Japan. But two days after they arrived, the Americans dropped the atomic bombs, and the war was over when the Japanese surrendered. Hank’s pride in serving his country extended to his fellow veterans through his membership with the American Legion Post #258.
While in the military, Hank had been offered the chance to go to medical school through the Navy, but he turned it down with the sentiment: “I just really wanted to get out of the Navy.” He returned to Grand Rapids in 1946 and continued to take pictures of the great Michigan outdoors as well as the city and its people. He did freelance work for several businesses and outdoor magazines, but when a photography job opened up at The Grand Rapids Press, the 29-year old jumped on what proved to be the opportunity of his life. Beginning as an understudy of photographer Marv Lanninga, Hank’s work soon caught the attention of the head outdoor editor, Jim McKenna. McKenna hired Henry to temporarily replace Lanninga when Marv was drafted into the Korean War. Eventually, Hank was made a permanent photographer, and as recently as November 2015, he was the only remaining photographer of his five photographer colleagues Hank began working with at The Grand Rapids Press. Over his years at the Press, Hank’s pictures were often chosen for the newspaper’s daily print and his reputation continued to grow.
As evidence of his craft, Hank was innovative and prolific. In the 1950s, he created his own GoPro-type device to record action hunting photos, and in the 1960s, he did pioneering work with underwater photography. His outdoor articles and photos have been published in Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Sports Illustrated as well as numerous books and state and regional publications. He received numerous photo awards from the National Press Photographer’s Association, the Michigan Press Photographer’s Association, the Associated Press and Look Magazine’s Sports Photo Contest. One of his news photos was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and his outdoor photo awards include those from the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, Michigan Outdoor Writers Association and Sports Afield Photo Contest. One of his most endearing pictures was an award-winning photo of his infant son William with a pumpkin. The photo ran on the front page of the Press the week of Halloween in October of 1957, and it caught a lot of “press” with the public. Over the years, many people sent letters to Outdoor Editor Hank Zeman in response to his writing and photographs.
As much as Hank loved his job, there were a few drawbacks to the profession. It was challenging to respond to a call in the middle of the night to take pictures of fires or natural disasters and, as it turned out, it was tedious to photograph basketball games. Hank began to despise the sport because of all the pictures he had to take. It was a sentiment that never left him, but fortunately it was not representative of Hank’s overall career. “As the outdoor editor of the paper, I was able to get paid to do what I love more than anything, and that is, write about my experiences in hunting and fishing and take pictures that captured that.”
Two months after joining the Press staff, Hank had met the woman who would become his wife. He was at Grand Haven Beach with a good friend, who took the initiative of talking to a young woman and her friend. As it turned out, “he married the girl he was interested in, and I married her friend.” Bernice and Henry “tied the knot” two years after they met, and raised their family in the downtown area of Grand Rapids. Not surprisingly, Hank bought each of their four children a camera when they reached age 12 (the same age that he had bought his first), and he taught them how to take pictures. For Hank, picture-taking was always the best part of his job and his leisure time.
In his journalism career that spanned from 1952 to 1987, Hank met many Hollywood and political celebrities, such as Jimmy Durante, Shirley Temple and several U.S. presidents, John F. Kennedy, Gerald R. Ford and Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. Hank was able to document historic events as they were happening. One of his favorite assignments was taking pictures of Mr. Ford when he returned to Grand Rapids on a hometown visit. Many years later, Hank sent him a letter, telling him of the pictures and that he hoped to meet him one day. In 1990, Hank got his opportunity and was privileged to have the former president autograph his pictures.
When not at work, Henry was active in his church and community as well as professional organizations. He was named President of the Michigan Press Photographer’s Association in 1967 and was a member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church as well as the Holy Spirit Ushers Club. He belonged to the Polish Heritage Society and Michigan Steelheaders, where he was crowned the National Trout King of 1988.
Over the years that Hank lived and worked in Grand Rapids, he had the opportunity to take pictures of many major events in the city and document its past. For example, the Blue Bridge used to be the Red Bridge and it was a railroad crossing. From the old days of Furniture City USA to the current-day ArtPrize festival showcasing thousands of artists, Henry captured it all. He was able to comment on it, as well. He observed that the biggest change in photography was the advent of technology. “Back in the day, it took skill to take pictures. You only had one chance to get that one shot right. Now with digital cameras, you have as many shots as you need to get that picture right. The new generation of photographers does not understand the real way to take pictures...and the true form of art it is.” Hank never wavered from his belief that, although the world of journalism and how people communicate is changing, journalists are still needed. Precisely because it is so easy to transmit information that may be true or untrue, it is vital that unbiased journalism stays committed to reporting the truth.
In recent years, Hank adapted to a digital camera and produced prints on his computer, all the while retaining his artistry. He entered many photo competitions and shows, and attended outdoor photography conferences that were hosted across country. In his retirement years, he continued to work as a photographer and write about personal experiences. He had produced material for his profession for so long that he kept doing the same thing “just to have fun.” As friends and family observed, Hank never went anywhere without his camera.
Unlike many families, the Zeman clan has its history captured in print since 1935. They will forever treasure these photos that are a testament to an extraordinary man and his beloved family.
Henry Francis Zeman, age 92 of Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed away on Monday, December 14, 2015. He was predeceased by his parents, his daughter, Theresa Anne Zeman, his brother and wife, Ted and Geraldine Zeman, brother Casimere Zeman, sisters and brothers-in-law, Irene and Peter Kicz, and Alice and Robert Farmer.
Henry will be greatly missed and lovingly remembered by Bernice, his wife of 61 years, three sons: James (Janel) and children Lauren and Jarett; William (Dianne) and children Christina and Andy; Paul (Marie) and children Jacquelyn, Daniel, and Samantha; his sister, Helen (Ed) Emelander, sisters/brothers-in-law, Loretta Zeman, Dorothy Sessions, Harry Styburski, Tom Styburski and many nieces, nephews and friends. The family would like to thank the staff at Yorkshire Manor for their compassionate care.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 AM on Saturday, December 19, 2015 at Holy Spirit Church, 2230 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Friends are invited to visit with his family on Friday from 5-8 PM, with a Vigil Service at 7:30, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. N.W and at church on Saturday for one hour prior to Mass. Interment at Holy Cross Cemetery. Memorial contribution may be made to the Van Andel Institute for Cancer Research, Blandford Nature Center, or the Holy Spirit Education Foundation. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to archive a memory, photo, or sign the guestbook.