obit: William "Bill" J. Zak, Jr.
Long-time radio broadcaster Bill Zak, of KTRH for nearly 50 years, died peacefully in hospice care Tuesday, Oct. 25. He was 86.
William J. Zak, Jr., from Brazos County, was a big-hearted man of grit. He graduated from high school with honors at 15, as class president. Zak then enrolled at Texas A&M University to study electrical engineering. At 17, he felt a calling to WWII and was determined to become a pilot in the U.S. Navy. He was too young to enlist, however, so he wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging him to make an exception in the age requirement. The White House responded that he would have to wait until he was 18. At that age, Zak joined the navy, but shortly before earning his flight wings, he sustained a head injury in an accident during a drill and received an honorable discharge.
Zak then put to good use some advice given to him by a Texas A&M professor who complimented Zak's deep voice and spirited personality, and nudged him to pursue radio. Zak landed his first radio job as a DJ at WTAW in College Station earning 25 cents per hour, followed by a second radio gig at nearby KORA. In the mid 1940s, KTRH's farm director happened to hear Zak on the air and recruited him to Houston.
During his early years, Zak broadcasted from KTRH's studio at the Rice Hotel downtown, reporting farm-related news of those days and such big news events as the Texas City Disaster in 1947 that killed hundreds. Zak, who won numerous awards over his years in radio, worked alongside and became friends with many broadcasters, including Dan Rather. He delivered Rather's first on-air introduction. The two co-anchored a news show before Zak later hosted "Garden Line," for which Zak is most recognized.
Zak, an only child, adored his parents and took care of them in their later years, providing them a home next door to his on his three-acre property in Spring Branch. Zak also was a home builder and an author. He published two playful books on insects, offering help to gardeners challenged by "critters." He retired from KTRH in 1995.
Zak is survived by his beloved wife of 36 years, Jean Elizabeth Zak; six children - Debbie Zak, Marci Goforth, Gary Zak, Dana Veseleny, Lisa Smith and Steve Zak; four step-daughters – Julie Hewitt, Valerie Thompson, Leslie Siller and Paige Hewitt; 15 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his mother Mylada "Maggie" Zak and father William Joseph Zak, Sr., known by family as Grandma and Grandpa Zak.
A memorial service will be held Sat., Oct. 29 at Earthman Hunters Creek Funeral Home, 8303 Katy Freeway. Visitation with family will be at 10:30 a.m., followed by the service at 11 a.m., officiated by Father John Rooney.
Those wishing to leave messages for the family may do so at www.dignitymemorial.com. The family requests contributions be made to VITAS Hospice Charitable Fund, 5430 NW 33rd Avenue, Suite 106, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 33309. Donations also can be made at www.vitascharityfund.org
Earthman Hunters Creek Funeral Home