Most people struggle to find a career they love, or even a job they just like.
James Raymond Zosel, of Minneapolis, enjoyed four careers throughout his long life, each distinct and meaningful — as a veterinarian, Episcopal priest, chemical dependency counselor and professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).
Zosel, 87, died on Oct. 20 of pneumonia.
“He was such a remarkable man, he had such a range of talents,” said his business partner and friend, Bill Stevens, of St. Paul.
Born March 29, 1929, in Wadena, Zosel began his career trajectory in the early 1950s at the University of Minnesota where he studied veterinary medicine. “He was a country boy. He had a lot of experience on farms dealing with animals,” said his son Scott Zosel of Minneapolis.
While at the U, he met his future wife, Nan, whom he would marry in 1952.
After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Zosel ultimately set up a successful veterinary practice in Elk River. But, as his family recalls, the “free thinker took over,” and he packed up his young family to become an Episcopal seminarian at bucolic Nashotah House in Nashotah, Wis.
“He really liked helping people,” Scott Zosel said. “He found his spiritual calling at a very young age.”
Once ordained, he led parishes in Benson, Montevideo, and Burnsville. During the tumult of the 1960s, Zosel often preached a message of activism from the pulpit. Sporting wire-rimmed glasses and a beard, Zosel tooled about in a green Volkswagen microbus, protesting on behalf of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. In 1968, he joined a delegation of clergy from Minnesota to march in the historic Poor People’s March in Washington, D.C.
But by 1972, Zosel found a new calling as a chemical dependency counselor, studying at the Johnson Institute, a pioneering program that trained a generation of drug, alcohol and family counselors. Zosel worked at St. Mary’s Hospital and the Pharmhouse, a Minneapolis drug treatment center, before striking out on his own.
He set up a private practice in the mid-1970s, joining with Stevens, his new business partner. “Jim was an incredibly authentic person. There was a wonderful fierceness about him. He impacted the lives of so many,” Stevens recalled. The two worked together for about 16 years until Zosel found yet another calling — this time as a college professor.
In 1985, he accepted a position at MCAD, teaching an impressive variety of courses ranging from pharmacology to anatomy. His family describes him as “part Darwin, part Emerson and part Picasso.” And by all accounts, he loved the work, retiring in 2002 “the happiest man in Minnesota.”
Zosel enjoyed all sorts of hobbies — art, travel, gardening, music, biker (before it was trendy), and a “world-class” baker, particularly of bread. Zosel and his wife, early advocates of healthful eating, were founding members of the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis.
As his health declined, Zosel was able to return to his south Minneapolis home, and died peacefully in his sunlit dining room, surrounded by family, friends, and the music he loved.
“He was very lighthearted, and serious-minded when he needed to be,” Scott Zosel said. “And he could always make me laugh.”
In addition to his wife, Nan, and son Scott, Zosel is survived by sons Tom Zosel, of St. Paul, Mike Zosel, of St. Anthony, and Tony Zosel, of Bloomington; by daughter Mary Southwell, of Auckland, New Zealand, and by 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service will be held at noon Thursday, Oct. 27, at Lakewood Chapel, 3600 Hennepin Av. S. in Minneapolis.