Downtown Howell’s newest resident arrived amid great fanfare on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018 — the day that would have been his 99th birthday. Greeted by hundreds of people, the larger-than-life statue of Duane Zemper, standing 7 feet tall, was unveiled at the corner of West Grand River Avenue and North Center Street, on the grounds of the Howell Carnegie District Library.
I love the location. It’s perfect; Zemp is both standing watch over and welcoming people to his beloved downtown Howell.
Not long after the unveiling ceremony, after the hoopla subsided and the crowd dispersed to festivities at the Howell Opera House, you got to see the brilliance of the statue of Zemp up close. Created by the husband-and-wife team of Colin and Kristine Poole of Santa Fe, N.M., the piece is magical in how friendly and approachable it is — much like Zemp himself — and a steady stream of people out for a walk or ride stopped to admire it, get close to it, touch it, and then photograph themselves with it.
Just like that, the Zemper statue is instantly an important part of the fabric of downtown Howell; it’s almost as if it’s been there forever.
And rightly so: Zemper documented life in Howell for nearly five decades. The historical photographs of Howell’s early years — many of which are on display throughout the community — exist only because Zemper knew the value of the glass-plate negatives and photos left behind by the previous owners of his photography studio in downtown Howell.
Zemp was a lot of other things, too: an amazing athlete who was one of the fastest long-distance runners in the country; a WWII photographer who preserved more than 10,000 war photos; a founder of the Howell Area Archives; the 1976 Howell Citizen of the Year; and a Rotarian with an astonishing record of nearly seven decades of perfect attendance. He also co-authored and contributed to the “1776-1976 Howell Bicentennial History Book,” and has an award named after him for those who bring attention and support to the Howell Carnegie District Library.
Zemper’s contributions to the community are both numerous and legendary. Work on finding a way to memorialize him began shortly after his death in July 2016.
How fitting, then, that this magical statue honors him while it welcomes people to the place he loved so much, the place where he lived and worked and served for so many years.
Welcome back, Zemp!
You can read more about the Duane Zemper Legacy Project by clicking here.
You can read about one of Zemp’s amazing physical feats by clicking here.