WWII Vet Gets Justice, Diploma From High School At Age 94

A child genius, William Mathis, graduated from high school at age nine. He is now studying to become an astrophysicist. His goal in life? He hopes to prove, through science, God’s existence.

By an odd twist of fate, Black Diamond resident Joe Zumek attended Black Diamond High School until the spring of 1943. He left to enlist in the Army during World War II, 27 months of duty. But he never received his certificate of graduation, a diploma. He is now 94 and will be 95 in December. While interviewing Joe to obtain some town history, the Black Diamond Historical Society became aware of the fact that to Joe, having not received his diploma was a major regret for him. The Society contacted Enumclaw School District Superintendent, Mike Nelson, since Enumclaw holds the academic records for Black Diamond. Although they searched the archives, they were unable to locate the diploma. In contacting the Department of Veteran Affairs they learned DVA has a program allowing them to issue the diploma in cases such as Joe’s.

At their board meeting, the Board of Directors for Enumclaw School District will now be holding a graduation ceremony in honor of Joe Zumek, who currently lives with his wife, Eileen, at Water Gardens in Maple Valley. The commencement exercise is set for Monday, Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in Black Diamond Elementary School gymnasium.

Well-known as a pioneer family in Black Diamond, the Zumeks were business entrepreneurs. Three brothers, Joe, Tom and Frank once owned and operated the “big store” that was the original Pacific Coast Company Store. (Brother Louis was a civil engineer and Joe had a sister, Francis.) The brothers’ market was located on what is now a property gap between Black Diamond Museum and the Smoke House/Antique Store plats. Zumek Brothers Grocery had once been the coal mining company’s marketplace in the town of Lawson, owned then by Pacific Coast Coal. When Lawson mine closed following the 1910 explosion, the store was moved downhill to Railroad Avenue. In the late 1940’s, it was acquired and operated by the Zumeks, until 1963. During that time, the store’s safe, with all its cash and security holdings, customarily sat at the front of the store, where it was easily viewed by police. That safe now has permanent residence in the Black Diamond Museum. The store was torn down in 1963. The family then opened a new Zumek Brothers Grocery on Highway 169; the building that is now occupied by several merchants: Sahara Pizza, Black Bear Outpost, Food Mart, Oshio2 and Pawn Shop. At a later time, Frank operated a separate meat market behind Boots Tavern.

Keith Watson, Historical Society president, noted, “Joe and his wife have served our community for so many years, have been instrumental in the continuation of the Society, and have been long-time supporters of the Museum’s work. Those who’ve had the opportunity to sit and chat with him have found the wealth of his knowledge about Black Diamond and its history is remarkable.”

As Joe spent time sharing history, his personal story about a lost diploma became very familiar to friends. They initiated the search for the ubiquitous certificate. Historical Society board member and archivist, Dave Watson, along with treasurer, Sherrie Evans, were provided forms of request for a diploma by Superintendent Nelson. When they submitted the paperwork, along with conjunction with DVA, authorization of a diploma was complete. The elusive transaction that never occurred was on its way to a rightful owner.

It will now happen, 76 years late. Superintendant Nelson, along with the District’s board of directors, has arranged presentation of a diploma to Joe Zumek. On Monday, Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m.,the general public is invited to witness this unique twist to tradition – the handshakes, cap and gown regalia, and the elation that usually accompanies an 18-year old graduate commemorating success. It will now celebrate Black Diamond’s success, Joe Zumek, age 94, an official high school graduate with a diploma to prove it.