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Former R-J outdoors columnist Kimak dies

He was a Nevada fishing legend and a renaissance man.

Former outdoors columnist John Kimak, a high school English teacher who wrote about fishing, hunting and wildlife issues for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1979 to 2003, died Wednesday. He was 77.

Of all the epic battles he fought to land lunker striped bass on the shores of lakes Mead and Mohave, his fight with leukemia was his last and longest, a three-year bout that ended Wednesday afternoon at Saint Rose Dominican Hospitals’ Siena campus in Henderson.

“He went peacefully, but he fought hard,” longtime friend and fishing buddy Butch Ivey said.

The two Air Force veterans met in 1965, the year after Kimak moved to Las Vegas from South Dakota for a teaching job at Garside Junior High School. He later taught at Chaparral High School, where he retired in 1991.

“He was always a teacher. He taught me about fishing and the outdoors,” Ivey said.

Nicholas Kimak of Las Vegas was having a difficult time coming to grips with his brother’s death.

“I’m just shocked,” he said. “It’s hard to believe. He’s been such a great guy. He helped me a lot.”

Carol Laehn, Kimak’s companion of 25 years, described him as a “rough-and-tumble kind of guy but very arty in a lot of ways with poetry and Shakespeare.”

“He would always take food to school for the kids. He was very generous,” she said.

The son of a coal miner of Russian descent, John Kimak was born Dec. 2, 1935, in Vintondale, Pa. His father died in a mining accident when the son was 6. His mother, Helen Kimak, a waitress, raised him, his two brothers and three sisters.

He graduated from high school at 16 and enlisted in the Air Force. During the 1950s, he was a drill sergeant and chaplain’s aide at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, where he won several airman-of-the-month awards.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from New Jersey’s Rutgers University and then taught briefly in South Dakota before moving to Las Vegas. He later earned a master’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University. He was a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

In Southern Nevada, his life revolved around fishing and teaching children how to fish. He started a debate team and fishing club at Chaparral High and would host fish fries at the Center for the Blind on Fridays. He would clean his catch of rainbow trout and bass and give it to needy families.

An avid keno player in downtown Las Vegas, he would use money from his jackpots to buy crates of apples and peaches for his colleagues.

Former Review-Journal Managing Editor Charles Zobell recalled Kimak’s colorful personality.

“Over the years, John was one of my favorite people at the Review-Journal. He brightened the newsroom every time he dropped by, whether it was with fresh fruit, fish on ice or his latest article,” he said. “His column was informative and often entertaining. Without doubt, he had a large, loyal following of readers. Few Nevadans knew more about the fish and wildlife agencies than John.”

Two of Kimak’s trophy striped bass, weighing more than 30 pounds each, were mounted and presented to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, where they grace the agency’s lobby in Las Vegas.

Ivey said Kimak caught many bass bigger than 20 pounds while wearing waders and casting large lures from shallow water. Ivey estimated Kimak’s largest striper weighed “in the high 40s.”

In a 1997 magazine article on “Nevada Characters” about his fishing habits and 2,000-piece lure collection, Kimak was quoted as saying, “One fish I caught burned out the gears on my reel. I had to pull it in hand-over-hand.”

Survivors include brothers Nicholas of Las Vegas and George Kimak of Florida; and three sisters, Pauline Jones of Florida, Mary Shea of Toledo, Ohio, and Anne Sturms of Dillsburg, Pa.

He will be buried in the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, but funeral arrangements are pending.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at
krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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