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Life Story / Obituary
With unwavering convictions, and a generous heart, John F. Zieserl lived a life abundant in faith and family. An intellect and scholar, John was a lifelong learner who eagerly shared his knowledge and enjoyed a good debate. A man who embodied the principles of his faith, he generously gave of his time in service of others. John was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and brother. He was a powerful role model and his legacy will long live in the hearts of those he loved.
Despite the obvious gloom of the Great Depression, 1935 held out much hope for John Sr. and Margaret (Drudy) Zieserl, with the birth of their first child, son John on February 5. Growing up in New Jersey as the oldest of the five Zieserl children, John enjoyed the comforts of a simple childhood. While his father worked for a paper company, his mom stayed home. The foundation of his lifelong faith was forged in the family's Catholic traditions, his attendance in Catholic schools and his strong family connections.
After attending Immaculate Conception in New Jersey, he graduated with the class of 1953 from St. George High School in Evanston, IL. He was very athletic and though he played football, track was the sport he loved best. While working as an usher at the local movie theatre, John had the good fortune of meeting Donna Lee Gulden, a regular moviegoer. The pair struck up a friendship and dated on and off for quite a while.
For two years, John studied agriculture at the University of Illinois. However, in answer to the call to explore his faith further, he put his schooling on hold and joined the monks at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. After a brief time with the monks, John returned home, though his time at the abbey inspired him to return later in life, each fall for a personal retreat.
Called to serve his country, John next enlisted in the Army. While stationed in Germany, he and Donna decided to get married. Donna flew over, and they exchanged their vows on January 22, 1957, in Landstuhl, Germany. During their 18 months in Germany, the newlyweds were blessed to start their family with a daughter.
Upon returning to the States, John re-enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he earned a Masters Degree in Chemistry while the family lived in the barracks. Soon after graduation he was hired by the Upjohn Company. Though he began his career with the company as a chemist, he had an early career path change to Computer Systems Analyst when he helped establish the company’s computer systems. After a long career as an analyst, John retired from the Upjohn Company.
With his job at Upjohn came the opportunity to move, settle, and raise a family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In time, John and Donna welcomed four additional lovely daughters to their family. As a father, John was strict. Extremely protective of his family, and in his worry for everyone's safety, John valued order and control. The kids were required to help with chores and household projects, and their schooling was a top priority. A natural mathematician, he often helped with their math homework. He inspired lots of time outdoors, often taking the kids to the Nature Center, the Bird Sanctuary, Gull Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and on nature walks. Sledding at Milham Park golf course was also a favorite outdoor activity. John taught each of his girls to ride a bike and later how to drive. John loved tradition and treasured family gatherings, especially sharing holidays in each other's good company.
An intellectual man, John loved to read, especially historical and theoretical texts. He enjoyed studying stocks, money management, politics and philosophy. He was especially interested in learning more about whatever his children and grandchildren were interested in: computers, psychology, policy, philosophy, music, to name a few. When he was younger, he played chess and ping pong, and as he grew older he loved the challenge of Sudoku. John was very athletic for much of his adult years; he was a good swimmer, but running was his preferred activity. He was able run in the Boston Marathon twice in his life. John enjoyed a cigar now and then in his early years. A bit of a foodie, John enjoyed eating. He liked a real Manhattan and, in retirement, made great bread. John always had a list, a quality that all of his daughters continue.
In their retirement, John and Donna were fortunate to travel. Their trips were usually river cruises or bus tours in both the U.S. and Europe.
John was quick to give of his time and talents in the service of others. Over the years, he was very active and involved with St. Catherine of Siena Church, where he served daily mass and trained new servers. He also participated in the Senior Service Meals on Wheels program for many years, as well as St. Vincent dePaul interviews.
Later in life, John's eyesight began to fail and couldn't read. Though an enormous loss, his memory never failed, nor did his love of debating and challenging. He had an excellent memory and loved calling and talking with his large extended family. Stubborn and convicted, he also possessed a great sense of humor. Despite believing he was always right, his grandkids softened him. He wanted to hear what they were interested in and doing. He loved engaging in challenging conversations with them. John encouraged growth and proved an unwavering stand for each of their endeavors.
Clearly, it is difficult to imagine life in the absence of John's steadfast presence. May our many cherished memories afford deep comfort. May we also find comfort in the many ways John's legacy lives on in each of our lives. With each moment we take a nature walk, cheer on the Packers, listen to Gregorian chant, or sip our favorite beverage from one of his mugs from Gethsemani, we celebrate the many ways John gifted us. In these ways, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired us.
John F. Zieserl, age 85, died in the comforts of his home on March 29, 2020. Preceded in death by his daughter, Suzanne Zieserl; sister, Margaret Leider; and by a brother-in-law, Jim Schachte. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Donna Zieserl; 4 daughters: Terry MacDevitt – Delpier, Cheryl Soderquist, Michele (Mike) Proos and Patricia (Sean) Carruth; 8 grandchildren; 3 siblings: Virginia Schachte, Dr. Edward (Marilyn) Zieserl and Robert (Randi) Zieserl; and brother-in-law, Peter Leider, and many cousins, nieces and nephews. Private services were held with burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Public memorial mass will be held later at St. Catherine of Siena Church. Please visit John's personal web page at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com, where you can read his life story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to St. Vincent dePaul (St. Catherine of Siena). Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.