FRANKFORT — Jazeps P. Ziemelis, 100, died May 13, 2013 at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital-Living and Rehabilitation Center, Frankfort, Mich. where he was affectionately known as “Joe Z.” He was born May 16, 1912 in Latvia at Kaupiskos, the family home near the village of Bebrene, to Jekabs and Veronika Butkevics.
Having lost his father to the terror of Bolshevik communism during the First World War, Jazeps grew up helping support his mother, brother, and sister working on the family farm. As a young man he transported produce and goods with his beloved REO truck.
He married Helena Baltmanis on Nov. 21, 1943. Due to the conflict of World War II and the imminent occupation of the Baltic States by Soviet forces, Jazeps, Helena and their families fled Latvia in 1944, seeking refuge in Germany. They followed retreating German troops. Their journey was difficult and perilous, traveling on foot, by horse drawn wagon, military cargo ship, and rail in the midst of war. Their faith in God and each other saw them through. At the conclusion of World War II they remained in Germany as refugees, and lived in Valka, a displaced persons camp near Nuremburg.
In 1949 Jazeps and his family immigrated to the United States, entered the U.S. at New Orleans, and lived in Scott, Miss. where he worked as a carpenter for the Delta and Pine Land Company. He and his family eventually settled in Kalamazoo, Mich. Jazeps was a member of the Kalamazoo Latvian-American Community for over 60 years and a member of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Parish. He initially worked as a laborer for Miller-Davis Construction Company and helped in the building of St. Augustine Cathedral. He later became a skilled machinist, and worked for The American Tool Company of Kalamazoo until retirement.
He will be remembered for his love of family, his hard work and dedication for their well being, his ingenious ways of solving problems whether everyday and ordinary or complex and far reaching, and his anecdotes, stories, and humor. Although love for his home in Latvia was never diminished, he was always grateful for the freedom and opportunities the United States provided for him and his family.