Friends, Family Recall JCC Professor
Jesse Zeiders was simply remarkable, and those who knew him won’t forget that.
Zeiders’ official title was professor of human services at Jamestown Community College where he taught for 10 years. However, depending on who you ask, his title was always something greater and accompanied by praise. But Zeiders’ son-in-law, Joshua Zeiders-Weber, said he was a combination of all his roles simultaneously.
Zeiders died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 58 years old.
A memorial service was held Friday at JCC inside the Student Union. The venue was changed to accommodate the anticipated turnout.
Along with Zeiders’ son-in-law, others addressed grieving of family members, friends and former students. Those who spoke included Glenda Nelson, a longtime family friend; Catherine Iannello, a JCC colleague; Jim Weaver and Josh Miller, former students; and Pastor Lynn Gatz. On multiple occasions the word “remarkable,” or any of its synonyms, were used to describe him.
They told stories of how a mischievous kid and later oil-drill operator became a well-respected faculty member at a collegiate institution. They also acknowledged that trying to convey who Zeiders was to them was likely impossible.
Zeiders-Weber, the man who married one of Zeiders’ daughters, described his father-in-law as dubious, a nerd, a strong advocate for mowing his lawn, but most of all a man who put his family first. Zeiders-Weber noted that while Zeiders most likely pictured himself as a grizzly bear, he was, in fact, closer to the Teddy Ruxpin version of the wild animal.
Zeiders-Weber rattled off a long list of miraculous feats and adventures like the JCC professor being hit by a vehicle on three different occasions.
“The man was a legend,” he said bluntly.
Nelson, recalled memories from her and the legend’s childhood. She considers Zeiders’ family as her own. Nelson also credited Zeiders as the reason she and her husband, Keith, who was also a longtime friend, eventually married.
She told stories of getting into trouble as kids and their shared life as they grew older. But what stuck with her the most was that Zeiders taught her to understand that “life was a journey.”
Iannello, who worked with Zeiders for a decade, recalled hiring him after an “odd” phone interview. While acknowledging the “profound impact” he had on those in mourning, she said Zeiders would likely have rathered the memorial service “focus on the work that he did” as a family man, a professor and a mentor.
Iannello said the “renaissance man” could just as easily fix a lawnmower as he could sing opera. She admitted that she is a better person and professor because of her late friend and colleague.
Before he passed, Zeiders was able to help construct a scholarship in his name titled, “The Jesse P. Zeiders Persistent Award Scholarship.” It is to be awarded to a first-year JCC student pursuing a career in human services, alcohol counseling or social work. Also, and more importantly, the recipient must be persistent and in financial need, key details that Zeiders requested be included.
When Weaver, a machinist in 2008, decided he wanted to do something else with his life, he called JCC. He initially spoke to Iannello, but after hearing Weaver’s back story, she forwarded him to Zeiders.
On the phone, Weaver recalled hearing a “big, booming voice” greet him through the line. After providing a piece of his own back story, Weaver was told by Zeiders to “settle down,” and the two scheduled a meeting. Upon graduating from JCC, Zeiders texted Weaver to congratulate him.
“Now we can be friends,” the text read.
Weaver told those in the Student Union that he’s “never met a better human.” The only other person on his mentor’s level of humanity is his wife, whom Zeiders advocated Weaver marry – he did just that.
“I went right home and proposed to her,” he said after seeking the advice of Zeiders.
He recalled meeting Zeiders for the first time and feeling the sense of confidence that the man before him would change his own life forever. While acknowledging his passing, he was sure he’d see his teacher, adviser, mentor and friend again.
Another student that Zeiders had a lasting impact on was Miller. He told the audience that his mentor considered himself a “Jedi Master” to his student “Padawans,” a reference to the “Star Wars” film series. The science fiction relationship was an idea the professor often referred to.
Miller, like the others who spoke, talked about Zeiders’ fascination for juvenile, but friendly, insults like “come at me bro” and “your mom,” which were the final words included in his submitted obituary. Miller said he encouraged students to seemlessly include “your mom” in essays, and when effectively written it would amuse the professor.
Describing him as the most “serious, laid-back person,” Miller said the entire “world is a much better place because of him.” He added, with confidence, that Zeiders touched the lives of everyone he met.
To close the service, Gatz, who knew Zeiders for many years as a pastor, finished with a prayer to send Zeiders and the grieving off.
But during Zeiders-Weber’s time recalling memories of his father-in-law, he wasn’t so sure the man who touched so many was actually gone.
“Despite his departure from this mortal coil, I believe he has attained immortality in us because we are all bound together by that force,” he said.