Area sports broadcasting icon Joe Klimas dies from lung cancer

Roger LaLonde Staff 
 Joe Klimas looks over memorabilia he collected over his 39 years as a TV and radio broadcaster.

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Roger LaLonde Staff Joe Klimas looks over memorabilia he collected over his 39 years as a TV and radio broadcaster.

“We are better people for having known Joe, a courageous man to the end, and friend that never will be forgotten.”

— Brendan Cunningham, Klimas’ fellow tee announcer at Naples professional tour golf events for almost two decades

“From his first broadcast to his last, Joe Klimas embraced high school sports like no other. Amazingly, his enthusiasm never waned. He had fun doing the games, and he made the games fun. Joe didn’t command respect. He simply earned it with his kindness and classic voice.”

— Tom Rife, sports editor for the Naples Daily News from 1973-2004.

“I’m very, very sad to hear that. He and I had a lot of times together over the years with all the football and basketball games he (broadcast).

“Joe was very respected as a person, not just as a broadcaster. People understood Joe was passionate about high school sports. He loved kids.

“He had such an easy way with people. He was an all-around good guy.”

“Joe loved all sports. When he was healthy, you’d see him around all the time, not just to broadcast games. He helped raise a lot of money for high school sports through golf charities. There were so many things Joe Klimas did behind the scenes that not a lot of people know about.”

— Ernie Modugno, who has been at Naples High School since 1981, including the past 23 years as athletic director. Modugno first met Klimas in 1977 when the broadcaster interviewed him for a story on soccer. Modugno was playing in an adult soccer league at the time.

“The No. 1 thing I remember was the voice. He had the perfect voice for a radio personality. But his charisma, personality and his obvious enjoyment of high school sports, that’s what came across.

“The part that made him special was his love of high school sports. He really, truly enjoyed it.

“It’s a great loss for high school kids all around Southwest Florida. That guy was an icon, one of a kind. He was professional in everything he did. I’m real sorry to hear about the loss.”

— Don Stewart, Lely’s head basketball coach for 26 years (1983-2009) and assistant football coach for eight (1983-1991)

“We are deeply saddened to hear of Joe’s passing. His passionate dedication to the Naples community is one we will all surely miss. He had an unwavering commitment to giving as much of himself as he could, volunteering for the past 25 years at The ACE Group Classic, and his impact is well-known by his fellow volunteers and tournament team. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

— Lesley Baker, tournament director, The ACE Group Classic

“Everyone involved with the Franklin Templeton Shootout has considered it a privilege to call Joe Klimas a friend and colleague. A gentleman and class act in every way, Joe will be sorely missed by countless people in the Naples community who have benefited from his acts of kindness over the years. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife, Barbara, and the Klimas family.”

— Taylor Ives, tournament director, Franklin Templeton Shootout

Joe Klimas, the voice of sports for generations of area athletes as a TV and radio broadcaster, died Monday. The 74-year-old passed away at 7:30 a.m. after a long battle with lung cancer.

Klimas had announced his retirement in June, with his only and last football game to be the Coconut Bowl when Naples was to play at Lely on Nov. 2.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday at Hodges-Joshberger Funeral Home on Marco Island. Memorial Mass will be at 10 a.m. on Friday at San Marco Catholic Church on Marco Island.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his honor to the Special Olympics of Collier County, 2663 Airport Road S., Suite D101, Naples, FL 34112.

Barb said Joe began slipping just over a week ago when hospice was brought in to assist the family. With her was her daughter, Kerri, a family practice doctor, and her two children.

“It was nice for them to see him and great to have family here,” Barb said.

Klimas, a University of Connecticut graduate and former football player there, came to Southwest Florida from New England in 1974 to assist in the development of Marco Island’s first youth center, but his love of sports led to a career on TV and radio, and elsewhere.

Klimas worked at WRGI-FM in Naples starting in August of 1974, moved on to WNOG-AM and Palmer Cable Television in 1976. For 15 years, he did tape-delayed television broadcasts for high school football games in Collier and Lee counties, along with a nightly sports segment on the 6 p.m. news. When local station WEVU-TV had its own newscast, Klimas provided the sports content — both on air and shooting his own videos.

In recent years, Klimas called weekly high school football and basketball games with Troy Miller on WCNZ/AM 1660 in Naples and online at swfllocalnews.com.

Outside of broadcasting, Klimas served as a tee announcer at all 25 ACE Group Classic Champions Tour golf tournaments in Naples, and was in the same capacity at the Franklin Templeton Shootout, Greg Norman’s unofficial PGA Tour event that moved to Naples in 2001. He also called races at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track, the Great Dock Canoe Race, and was on the selection committee for the Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete award, given to the county’s top high school student-athlete.

Klimas was the first president of the Southwest Florida Golf Charities, which raised more than $1.3 million over 20 years for high school golf programs, scholarships and local charitable organizations, including the Beau Venturi Home and Avow Hospice.

Irv Sherwood, president of the golf charity for most of those years, said, “Joe was a good guy and a good friend. He was very helpful with our charity and was very good for the community. He will be missed.”

Ken Venturi, the longtime CBS Sports golf analyst and Marco Island resident, was very close to the Klimases. Barb worked for Venturi for the 27 years he lived on Marco.

“He was a dear friend,” said Venturi, who now lives in California. “You never heard anything bad about Joe. He was a very kind, considerate and giving person. It broke my heart when I got the news.”

Naples businessman Vin DePasquale and Klimas combined for 36 years for the Great Dock Canoe Race.

“He was just a great friend,” DePasquale said. “He was fun to work with, just a fun guy. He was generous with his time, very knowledgeable about his sports and very kind to the sporting community.”

Mike Ward, formerly of Erin’s Isle Irish Pub, was one of the early founders of the Southwest Florida Golf Charities, and helped other charities.

“When I heard about Joe’s passing it really upset me. We have been friends for many years,” Ward said. “Every time I needed anything, like a commentator, or master of ceremonies, Joe was there for me. He brought a lot to the table for Southwest Florida for many years.”

Surviving is his wife, daughter Kerri Gray and grandchildren Joey and Katie of Chevy Chase, Md., daughter Kristi Hall, her husband Jimmy, and grandchildren Jordan and Justin, of St. Mary’s, Ga., brother Michael and his wife Susan of Branford, Conn. and cousins Cathy Berry and Sandy Mummert, both of Naples.

Klimas is being cremated.

“It was the girls’ idea some time ago to have their dad on the air forever,” Barb Klimas said.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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