Artist Hank Zyp, shown in a 2007 photo, used his talents to portray the spirituality of the poor and those who work for social justice.


Artist Hank Zyp, shown in a 2007 photo, used his talents to portray the spirituality of the poor and those who work for social justice.

May 7, 2012

EDMONTON – Hank Zyp was no ordinary man. The capital region artist, teacher and social justice advocate was a radical who praised the virtues of the likes of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and socialist Salvador Allende.

He was a happy man when left wing former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide became president of Haiti in 1990. His heart bled when Aristide was deposed by a U.S.-backed military coup in 2004 and was forced to flee the country.

Zyp loved everybody but had particular affection for those who contributed to the liberation of their people and worked for the betterment of society. From a young age he realized there are people in this world who don't get their fair share.

"He was a good man who made enormous efforts and took enormous risks to help people in underdeveloped countries become (financially) self-sufficient," said Hank's older brother John Zyp.

"He was and is an unofficial saint recognized locally, nationally and internationally," John Zyp said April 26. "He was a visionary, a prophet, a poet and an artist. He was an environmentalist and a social activist."

Zyp died April 12 at age 76. His was not an easy passage as he suffered excruciating pain from bone cancer.

The list of Zyp's accomplishments, together with his wife Tillie, is long and impressive.

It includes the founding of two NGOs: St. Joseph's Save the Children Club (now called Rainbow of Hope for Children) and Change for Children.

More than 35 years later, these organizations are thriving, proving ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference.

It also includes several larger than life murals, the best known being Your Will Be Done On Earth - a 100-foot mural depicting 250 men and women of many times, races, nationalities and faiths who made a difference in the world, among them Che Guevara, Martin Luther King and Pope John XXIII. Dominating the mural was a large Jesus with outstretched hands.

This mural, made to commemorate the centennial of Edmonton Catholic Schools, was designed by Zyp and executed in 1987 with the help of his commercial art students at St. Joseph Composite High School.

Former students continued the tradition of muralism alongside Zyp. Change for Children's Painting Peace Project brought together Central American and Canadian youth in creating the Edmonton Peace Mural on the Salvation Army Building downtown, which was unveiled as part of Change for Children's 25th anniversary celebration.

The Zyps' contribution to society didn't go unnoticed. Over the years, the couple received numerous awards, including the 1987 Alberta Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to humanity; the 1998 Celebration 20/20 award for International Development contribution; and the 2011 SAGE Award in the area of social justice and peace.

The SAGE awards celebrate seniors who inspire, empower and engage others in making the world a better place.


Zyp's physical downhill journey started in 2002 with a massive stroke that left him mostly speechless and semi-paralyzed. Nevertheless, he didn't give up. He continued to speak with his art, notes, hugs and pounding applause.

"The absence of words frees him to be fully present and to experience intense childlike joy and excitement," said WCR contributor Cecily Mills in a May 9, 2011 article.

"(Despite his condition) Hank remained optimistic and friendly and he did not lose his sense of humour," recalled his brother John. "In my opinion, there is a touch of saintliness in that."

John Acheson, former associate superintendent for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said Zyp's legacy is huge "because he walked the talk and talked the talk in terms of the Gospel message."


At St. Joseph's High, Zyp modelled and witnessed to the whole area of social justice not only through his actions but also through his inspiring 100-foot mural.

"I'll remember him as a witness to the Gospel," Acheson said. "He was a witness to what we are about in Catholic schools and he was an excellent commercial arts teacher too. The kids just loved him."

Zyp was born in Holland in 1935, the middle child in a family of seven children. After finishing high school he immigrated to Canada in 1953 and moved in with his brother John and wife Bettie. The two brothers worked as farm labourers for a time.

From 1955 until 1966 Zyp was art director for the Hudson Bay Company, with a staff of 25. In 1958 he married Tillie Saretsky, with whom he had two daughters: Theresa and Michelle.

Zyp taught commercial art at St. Joseph's High School from 1967 until his retirement in 1993.

For 10 years Zyp was a columnist with the WCR under the heading Just Desserts. His columns were popular among WCR readers and also drew their share of letters to the editor.

"When I wrote for the WCR, I wanted to teach the wisdom of the poor and their history," he said in a written interview in 2003.


"I have spent most of my life working with the poor. We in the West, with our great cities, architecture and technological achievements, look at ourselves as clever; I don't think we can say that we have wisdom."

"Hank and Tillie have worked with Canadian natives for more than 45 years," said John Zyp. "The result was a deeper understanding and mutual appreciation of cultural and spiritual values."

A funeral Mass for Zyp was held April 29 at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Enoch.