Thomas ‘Jake’ Zettel remembered as dedicated, caring man
WEST BRANCH — When you talk to those who knew him, if there is one word people used to describe Thomas “Jake” Zettel, that word is, dedication.
Zettel, 76, died Sept. 13, and he was known specifically for his dedication to the West Branch Volunteer Fire Department, as he served as a firefighter for more than 60 years.
“Jake was someone who was always there,” Bill Meier, who has worked at the department for 24 years, said of Zettel. “He never missed a fire. Up until his last days, he was always at the department.”
Fellow fire department member Bobby Dack echoed Meier’s comments.
“He’s been so dedicated to the department,” Dack said. “I’m really at a loss of words. It was a great pleasure being able to work with him.”
A life-long West Branch resident, except for the three years he served the U.S. Army in Germany, Zettel could always be found at the fire hall, even with him working at his day job at places including Coca-Cola, BZ Patch and Pave and Mid-Michigan Paving Company.
“I started at the department in 1996, and he helped me along the way,” Dack said. “Jake was always able to hold the department together. He believed in brotherhood and believed in keeping everyone in the department dedicated to what we do.”
As part of that brotherhood, Meier said some good old fashioned kidding around helped keep everyone loose, even in a stressful job.
“I was named fireman of the year last year, and he never let me forget it,” Meier joked. “Every time we’d get on scene, he’d ask me, ‘What do we do now, fireman of the year?’ He definitely knew how to lighten up a stressful situation.”
When he wasn’t fighting fires, Zettel was part of many other local organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and the West Branch Moose Lodge.
Zettel was also known to enjoy a variety of sports. He was known as an avid NASCAR fan and he rarely missed his children’s or grandchildren’s sporting events.
“My uncle Jake was a man of few words, but he had a huge heart,” Nikki Biermann, Zettel’s niece, said. “He was extremely proud of his family.”
He also loved hunting, as Meier said he and other friends used to go hunting with Zettel. Meier said the guys always had a good time while hunting, with one particular good time coming at Zettel’s expense.
“We used to go to a cabin on his property and we’d have four or five people out there hunting,” Meier said. “One morning, we told him we were going hunting at 3 a.m., but we normally went out at 6 a.m. But he believed us, so he got up at 3 a.m. the next day and got ready to go out. We pretended we were going out then too, but we never went out. He came back a little later and realized we were joking with him.”
Although he knew how to have a good time, Meier said Zettel will always be remembered for the legacy he leaves at the department.
“He saw a lot of people come and go, but he was the one constant,” Meier said. “He was one of my mentors, and a mentor to many of the guys here. It’s a great accomplishment to be able to serve a department for more than 60 years. We wouldn’t be where we are today without him.”