Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of war and times of peace, times of plenty and times of want, Robert Zettell was a hardworking man who was the sort of person others knew they could count on. He was deeply devoted to doing things the right way and always conducted himself in a gracious and ethical way. It was easy to see that Bob was married to his best friend, and he was thrilled to witness his family tree blossom to include the children and grandchildren he adored. Life will never be the same without Bob here, but he leaves behind a timeless legacy that his loved ones will proudly carry on in his footsteps.
The 1930s were largely defined by the Great Depression since with a soaring unemployment rate there were few American families that didn’t feel the strain. Cities, communities, and families came together to weather the storm as best they could. Despite the trials around them, Frank and Hazel (Foster) Zettell were able to shift their focus to an exciting time in their own lives as they announced the birth of the baby boy they named Robert Louis on October 2, 1936, in Pontiac, Michigan. He was the middle of seven children as he was raised in the family home alongside his brothers, Bud and Jim, and his sisters, Elaine, Gerry, Maragret, and Cathy.
Raised in the family home in Royal Oak, MI, Bob was a typical young boy of his generation. He was close to his siblings, and their family faithfully attended the Catholic church. Since Bob’s parents were originally from Canada, there were fun family trips back to Ontario to visit relatives. His father worked in grocery sales for Kroger stores in Michigan while his mother focused her time and attention at home. Bob attended local schools and played football in high school. It was in High School that he met Ann Dunnigan. The two dated and eventually became high school sweathearts
After graduating from high school, Bob was eager for all that life had in store. He attended the University of Detroit to study civil engineering. He was in the ROTC program there and also worked nights at Kroger to help pay for college. Once he had graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering, Bob and Ann were married on May 23, 1959, in Royal Oak. Bob then went on to serve as a United States Army officer as the captain of a missile battery during the early days of the Vietnam War until his commitment was done in the mid 1960's.
Shortly thereafter, Bob took a job with the Los Angeles County Road Department in California. Through his work, he was involved in building new roads as the community expanded. Bob would later go on to become the city engineer for the City of Fontana and then later for Palos Verde Estates, both in California. He was a very dedicated worker, starting work at 5 a.m., and he was also known for his impeccable ethical standards. In everything he did, Bob always did what was right for the communities he worked for.
Although he was dedicated to his work, there was nothing of greater importance to Bob than his family. Together he and Ann welcomed two children, Mark and Rebecca, into their hearts and home. Bob was very active in the lives of his children and was there to support them in all their events and activities. They took regular vacations back to Michigan to visit relatives. Eventually, Bob took a job as the Director of Muskegon County Public Works. During his tenure, he was very involved with the development of the County Waste Water Project, frequently attending public meetings dealing with the challenges of the project. In addition, Bob was very instrumental in the development of Heritage Landing Park on the shores of Muskegon Lake. For this reason, his grandchildren referred to this park as “Grandpa Bob’s Park.” Bob spent 25 years working for the county before retiring in 2004.
When his children were older, Bob continued to treasure the moments he had to spend with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He was thrilled to be the go-to babysitter for Mark’s children as they lived nearby. Bob loved being with his grandchildren and also made several trips to visit his daughter and her children, too.
Bob and his wife were truly the best of friends. Bob was a Civil War buff and loved visiting battle sights and collecting artifacts and memorabilia along the way. Ann enjoyed going with him on these trips and spending lots of time in antique shops.They were members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church for a number of years before changing membership to Prince of Peace Catholic Church.
Later in life Bob experienced some challenges, but he persevered. He was deeply saddened with Ann’s unexpected death in 2010, but he was thankful to be able to remain living on his own. Bob became more involved with his siblings and their families, making himself available to help when they needed it. Bob especially liked attending family functions and weddings. In time, Bob started having some health issues. He was in and out the hospital and rehab for a time, but when he needed more regular care he moved into Sanctuary at McAuley Place. He settled in there as best as he could, maintaining his sense of humor and becoming friendly with the staff.
All who knew Robert Zettell would agree that he was an extraordinary man to know and love. He was kind and generous with just the right amount of fun-loving humor mixed in. Bob was a loving and devoted family man who cherished nothing more than being surrounded by his loved ones. He will never be forgotten.
Robert Louis Zettell passed away Thursday, November 16, 2017. Bob’s family includes his son, Mark (Mary Tyler) Zettell of North Muskegon; daughter, Rebecca (Roger) Ten Elshof of Danville CA; grandchildren, Sam, Nick, Erin, Ben, Anna & Abigail; brother, Jim (Linda) Zettell of Troy; sisters, Margaret (Mike) Atkinson of Shelby Township; Cathy (Cal) Lausch of Saginaw. Bob was preceded in death by his wife, Ann in 2010; parents; sisters, Elaine and Gerry; and his brother, Bud. A Memorial Service will be held on Thursday, January 4, 2018, at the Clock Chapel - Muskegon.