Open house set to honor life of Duane Zemper

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Family and friends of Duane Zemper and history lovers alike are invited to attend a special celebration beginning at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at the Howell Opera House, 123 E. Grand River Ave. in downtown Howell. The event is dedicated to Zemp, who recently died at the age of 96, and his passion for community, a passion that helped shape the very fabric of his beloved city. He left behind a legacy of preservation for Howell’s pictorial history, volunteerism, charitable giving and mentorship.

The event will include favorite stories from some of the people he influenced, as well as Zemp himself during a showing of two short films, including the Emmy-award winning “WW II: Through the Lens of Duane Zemper.” In the movie, he describes his war photography work while assigned to the 457th Bomb Group.

You’ll have a chance to get involved with the Duane Zemper Legacy Project, a lasting tribute planned to memorialize a man who shied away from publicity, accolades and any kind of notoriety despite his lifelong dedication to Howell and everyone who has lived here within the last 70 years.

“Zemp was more than just a friend” said Howell Mayor Nick Proctor. “He was an inspiration who led by example.”

As a former All-American at Eastern Michigan University and a U.S. Olympic Track qualifier, Zemp knew a little something about hard work, sportsmanship and dedication. He shared those skills with countless high school students by becoming a coach. When he saw that children were not able to compete due to finances, he founded the Howell High School Athletic Boosters.

In his daily life, Zemp owned and operated the oldest, continuously operated, family owned photography studio in the United States. This award-winning photographer captured generations of families, local happenings and sporting events through his lens on behalf of little league, high school and college teams alike. As he got older, he co-founded the Howell Area Archives so that his photos and news stories from the past could be preserved and enjoyed by future generations.

“There is no doubt that Zemp impacted the lives of people who have lived in Howell for decades, and his efforts are still seen today even though people may not realize it,” says Patti Griffith, past president of the Howell Rotary Club. “Maybe the best example of this is the time he spent preserving iconic photos of Howell dating back to the 1800s. They are hanging in buildings throughout this city and Livingston County.”

Zemp was a vitally engaged member of the Howell Rotary, and never missed a meeting in 66 years of service. He helped raise money for youth scholarships, the homeless, food banks, emergency housing, heating and more.

For Zemp, this was all part of being a good citizen. He knew the impact that even one person could have. In fact, it was one person in particular to whom he owed some of his success: “Zemp did not have money to attend college,” said Dennis Perkins, current president of the Howell Rotary. “His high school coach gave him the $35 needed to get the education he wanted. He never forgot that act of kindness and spent a lifetime paying it forward.”

Learn more about the Duane Zemper Legacy Project by visiting

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The Livingston Post is the only locally owned, all-digital information and opinion site in Livingston County, Mich. It was launched by award-winning journalists who were laid off from the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus by Gannett Co. Inc. in 2009.

1 Comment

  1. What a well written piece about one of our local treasures.

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