Laini Zinn's Story

God wanted Laini to be an artist

As the daughter and wife of ministers, Laini Zinn has been a faithful churchgoer all her life. But she was in her forties when she discovered God’s purpose for her. 

This occured while she was auditing a pastoral counseling class at the Chicago Theological Seminary, which her husband was taking to earn his doctorate. During a guided meditation, she painted a triptych with a fish representing God welcoming her into his universe. 

“It was this expansive rebirth experience for her,” says Laini’s daughter, Cindy Zinn Ball. “She felt that being an artist was what God intended for her.” 

To mark her transformation, Laini gave up teaching art and music in the Waukegan, Ill., school system to become a full-time artist. She also retired her first name, Danne (accent over the e) — given to her by her father, Daniel, who had promised her older sister a little brother named after him— in favor of a version of her more feminine middle name, Elaine. 

Yet she remained a preacher’s wife and mom to three kids, an outdoorsy nature lover and an extrovert who was happy to take charge of things needing to get done. For instance, she taught Sunday school and started a “Pennies For Benny” campaign to raise $10,000 to put a sculpture of comedian and native son Jack Benny in downtown Waukegan.

Passing down her love of music to her children

Laini has worn many hats and nurtured many talents. 

In addition to creating art in multiple mediums, she played piano, flute and guitar and sang in choirs, a passion she passed on to her children. She was born in Iowa but moved all over the Great Lakes region as her dad pursued pastoral work. 

She lived in so many places that she has called 40 different houses home. Wherever she went, she loved biking, swimming and playing with her dog, Nick. When the family was forced by circumstance to give up Nick, she grieved the loss for years. 

Shortly after getting bachelor’s degrees in art and music at the University of Wisconsin, Laini was introduced to her future husband, J. Robert Zinn, a Chicago seminary student. The couple had three children in three different postings before settling for a long stretch in Waukegan. 

Although their youngest child, Rick, had developmental and medical challenges that were emotionally and physically daunting, Laini never lost her sense of humor, which she’d express with a great whooping laugh that her kids would mimic, making her laugh even more.
Laini, left, her sister Katie and their dog, Nick.

Sharing God's beauty through her art

Laini was active in the Lake County Art League as both a creator and supporter of the arts. Waukegan honored her work in many ways: In 1999, she won the Jack Benny Arts and Humanities award for her work supporting art and arts education. 

And in 2012, five years after Rev. Zinn died, the Waukegan Public Library held a retrospective of her work. “She loved sharing her art,” Cindy says, “because for her, that was sharing God’s beauty.”