Duane Zemper, known to most simply as Zemp, was a remarkable man who led a remarkable life.
Zemp graduated from Flint Central High School in 1937 during the Great Depression. Lloyd W. Olds, the track and field coach at Michigan Normal College, recognized his potential and recruited him. Because there was nothing like a track scholarship in existence at the time, Zemp’s former high school coach gave him the $35 he needed for tuition. It was money well spent. At Michigan Normal, which later became Eastern Michigan University, Duane was the Huron’s second ever All-American in cross country.
He was also Captain of the 1941 cross country team, and was one of two team members who would have qualified for the 1940 Olympics, but that dream never materialized as the world was engulfed in war. He was later inducted into the EMU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990.
Following the United States entry into World War II, it didn’t take long for Zemp to step forward and do his part. On his 23rd birthday, November 4, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. The Army immediately sent him to Yale to learn photography. While at Yale he was still pushing himself physically. In October of 1943 he set the new world sit-up record with 3,450 sit-ups in 3 hours and 42 minutes. His reason for stopping at 3,450 was that he had to get to class. Zemp eventually became a First Lieutenant and the Commanding Officer of a photo intelligence unit with the 457th Bomb Group at Glatton Airfield near Huntingdon, England.
After the war, Zemp moved to Howell, the hometown of his wife Tillie, and became a professional photographer. He purchased the Nelson Studio in Howell in 1946, where the awards kept on coming. He was recognized with the 1961 Professional Photographers Best Portrait Photography of the Year award; three Michigan Photographer of the Year awards, and in 1970, the national “Master of Photography” award. Zemp photographed nearly 50 years of events in this community. In fact, the 1968 Howell High School yearbook was dedicated to him for his commitment and service to the schools. He donated his time and materials to capture Howell High School sporting events, and over a 25-year period, he never missed a football game, home or away. He also mentored and coached countless athletes and founded the Howell Athletic Boosters.
His dedication went beyond just the schools. Zemp was a true community booster. He was named 1976 “Citizen of the Year” by the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce, and June 9th was declared “Duane L Zemper Day” by the City of Howell. He was a passionate and active Rotarian, serving as Sergeant of Arms, and President of the Rotary Club in Howell. As a Rotarian, Zemp and his wife sponsored and hosted a German exchange student. His record of 66 years of perfect attendance at weekly Rotary meetings has been recognized across the country.
While those accomplishments would be impressive for a dozen men, there is more to celebrate. Duane Zemper never stopped thinking about how to link Howell’s past to its future. As a founding member of the Howell Area Archives, in the Howell Carnegie District Library, he achieved that mission as well. His photographs, spanning more than half a century, and local knowledge has been forever made available to future generations.
Duane Zemper was not born in Howell, but in every way imaginable he is woven into the fabric of this community.