Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
John “Duke” O’Malley had a passion for what he called “the great outdoors.” He shared it with his family and the world, whether it was through the columns he wrote for the Daily Southtown for about 30 years, the fishing derbies that introduced thousands of Southland kids to the sport or a simple Sunday road trip.
“He’d take us for a three-hour drive just to have lunch somewhere and watch the leaves change and then we’d come back home,” said Maureen McGrail, of Plainfield, one of O’Malley’s six children. “He gave us what was important in life: morals, values and traditions.”
Mr. O’Malley, 76, who was a Chicago firefighter from 1958-98, died Friday of complications from a stroke he suffered in January, said Kathy Kobiernicki, of Oak Lawn, another of his daughters.
Mr. O’Malley, of Chicago’s Clearing/Garfield Ridge community, was born in 1935 and was a lifelong South Sider. He graduated from St. Phillip High School and was a U.S. Army veteran, serving in the Korean War.
Mr. O’Malley married his wife, Joan, in 1958. They had five daughters — Maureen (McGrail), Kathy (Kobiernicki), Erin (Johnson), Colleen (Granato) and Kerrie (McAvoy) — and a son, Patrick. They had 16 grandchildren and a great grandson.
Joan died in September. This coming Tuesday would have been their 53rd anniversary.
“We knew he wasn’t going to spend it without her,” McGrail said. “We always knew how much he loved her.”
“He’s where he wants to be, with my mom,” Kobiernicki said.
McGrail said she and all of her siblings went through 12 years of Catholic schooling.
“He worked so hard so that our mom could be home with us and put us through Catholic schools,” she said.
Mr. O’Malley was perhaps best known for the annual free kids fishing derby he oversaw for more than 20 years until 2008. When he attended his final derby, he estimated more than 20,000 kids had participated over the years.
“He lived for getting people to appreciate the outdoors and to get them to spend some time with family,” Kobiernicki said.
Don Dziedzina, a fellow outdoors columnist, recalled the derby and how Mr. O’Malley scrambled together volunteers and fundraising events each year to keep it going.
“Duke had outdoor writers come in and do seminars. He’d have raffles and raise money so he could support the annual fishing event for kids,” Dziedzina said. “Duke was a great guy. He loved the outdoors.”
Mr. O’Malley’s twice-weekly columns in the Daily Southtown reflected his interests in fishing and hunting, his advocacy for getting young people involved in outdoor recreation as well as protection of wildlife and aquatic habitat, according to the Illinois Conservation Foundation, which inducted him into its Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2008. Last year, the South Side Muskie Hawks honored him as their Man of the Year for a lifetime of dedication to the outdoors.
Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Palos-Gaidas Funeral Home, 11028 Southwest Highway, Palos Hills. A funeral Mass will be said at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Symphorosa, 6135 S. Austin Ave., in Chicago, with burial to follow at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 6001 W. 111th St., Alsip.
Contributing: Karen Caffarini