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Everyday Profiles: John R. Ziemann, Community Education Organizer to Photographer

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/Photo courtesy of John R. Ziemann

John Ziemann was living in Tucson, AZ in 1995 when he was presented with a dilemma. Work was no longer enjoyable and he was facing a downsizing from a career he loved and that had defined much of his adult life. It was then a friend mentioned that the only time he'd seen Ziemann happy in recent years was when he was behind the lens of a camera.

But could a beloved hobby like photography become a second career? The journey to reinvent himself was successful and innovative. It would even be flexible enough that Ziemann and wife Barbara could change communities and move to Grand Rapids to be near some of their grown children and grand children.

Ziemann, a Wisconsin native, attended college through Northern Michigan University in a program in Flint, MI where he trained as a community education organizer. His skills would be further enhanced through work experience in New Jersey, Washington, Ohio, Wisconsin and Arizona. Throughout the years he was often employed by school districts or universities to start or enhance community education programs. Yet, at heart, he considered himself a maverick with problem solving and risk taking skills. An Ohio community needs an after-school activity? Why not pair them up with roller skates from a former roller rink and let them skate in the gymnasium?

"John was faced with a difficult challenge in his career. Continue working at a job (which he moved to Arizona to accept!) but where the leadership was the largest source of stress in his life or take a chance and pursue a passion - photography, which he was VERY good at. I would imagine [the risk was] a cut in income and the security that a university director level position provided," said Jeffery Lanuez, a business acquaintance from Tucson.

In Arizona, Ziemann realized that to be a successful photographer he would need to find strength in numbers. He helped form a group of wedding providers for the Tucson area. It was a closed group of wedding professionals that each contributed $800 to build a Web presence and marketing materials. Other Members came from catering backgrounds and the floral industry, etc.

In the 11 years that Ziemann was active with the marketing group, the wedding portion of his business grew to 40 events per year.

"If you know John for any length of time you'll find he is extremely personable and enjoys having a good time in life. He's also very humble about his abilities and skills. The drive that he had to work full time at building his business was the true John - he quickly became a local leader in his new industry by giving value back to everyone around him," said Lanuez.

What skills and tips does Ziemann attribute to a successful career change?


Creativity in thinking and the structure required by many businesses are often at odds and don't function well together in business. Ziemann notes that you can work with someone creative and rein them in, but it's very hard to get a structured person to be successfully creative.

Continued Learning

"I learn as much as I can about everything," notes Ziemann. "I'm always open to new things and exploring."

Positive Thinking

Putting positive energy out and thinking outside of the personal box is effective. "Some people have the capacity for this and others don't." notes Ziemann.

Decision Making Skills

Ziemann is a quick decision maker and that can make other business contacts uncomfortable and frustrated. To combat that he'll often explain to a partner that "I don't need an answer right now. Answer me when you've had time to think it over and are comfortable with your decision." This leads to buy-in for both parties.

Communicating Through Stories

Using narrative stories will assist others in visualizing and when combined with listening will lead people to open up and establish rapport.

Establishing Choices

Often he uses the listening skills and people's desire to express themselves to let others choose their own way. An illustration of this is to offer a child a choice of wearing their blue shoes or black shoes, knowing that both decisions are okay, instead of just asking a child make a broad decision that might include no shoes at all.

Three years ago the Ziemanns moved to Grand Rapids. John's new business is under the name John R. Ziemann Photography. Living in West Michigan allows them to see family on a regular basis, do volunteer work, and work on his latest passion - restoring sailboats. He volunteers as a photographer for area nonprofits, including the American Heart Association.

"John has assisted us on so many occasions," said Emma Powell, Start! Heart Walk director for the American Heart Association. "When we've asked for support, he has always gone above and beyond which is invaluable to a nonprofit."

Changing careers paid off for Ziemann, who has learned so much about working with people along the journey.

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