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Kids’ Fishing Derby set Duke O’Malley apart

The late John ‘‘Duke’’ O’Malley was honored as Man Year by South Side Muskie Hawks. | Warren Thompson~For Sun-Times

The late John ‘‘Duke’’ O’Malley was honored as Man of the Year by the South Side Muskie Hawks. | Warren Thompson~For the Sun-Times

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Updated: September 11, 2011 12:22AM

It’s a testament to John “Duke’’ O’Malley that many of us didn’t think he would live long after his wife, Joan, died in September.

His heart was with his family and community.

O’Malley died Friday morning from complications of a stroke earlier this year. The wake was Tuesday night. The funeral mass is 9:30 this morning at St. Symphorosa, 6135 S. Austin Ave., in Chicago.

My last memory of O’Malley is haunted by bagpipes playing at a banquet room at Vince’s Restaurant & Pizza on the Southwest Side, where the South Side Muskie Hawks honored the former Chicago fireman as Man of the Year.

O’Malley was the voice of local outdoors for the SouthtownStar, in its various forms, for decades. His column was discontinued last fall, a few weeks short of 30 years.

But what set O’Malley apart, more than his being a fireman or outdoors columnist, was the Duke O’Malley Kids’ Fishing Derby.

It ran for more than 20 years in the south suburbs and put more than 20,000 youth through it. In the final years, the kids of the first kids started coming.

In 2008, he was inducted into the Illinois Conservation Foundation’s Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame for his derby work. Only one person comes close to that. Al Hayden (Hall of Fame 2010) has run a similar fishing derby for kids for more than 20 years in Galesburg.

But O’Malley’s derby had an added twist and shout a few years in. Bill Wesolowski, a Tinley Park rocker, started the “Let’s Talk Fishing’’ show as a way to fill the Edge Lounge in a strip mall in Midlothian in winter as well as raise funds for the derby.

It worked on both accounts. I had the honor of being invited to speak beginning a few years into “Let’s Talk Fishing.’’ In its final seasons, the show moved to the Evergreen Park VFW, where it ended in 2007.

O’Malley and I were never close. But I owe him a debt for my first time speaking at “Let’s Talk Fishing.’’ A few minutes in, my mind froze. He stepped up and peppered me with questions until I starting thinking again. Even with that, he invited me back every year after that.

That’s stuff of the heart for me.

For more than 20,000 others, the matter of the heart was the derby that came as surely as summer warmth every year.

Places and faces

The Frankfort Sportsman Club in Mokena holds an open house 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, in part, to show off its newly remodeled and challenging 5-stand course. Call (815) 469-9887. . . . The Beaubien Woods Celebration and Environmental Day! is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. The great kids event is free, but preregister at . . . John Marlin and Nani Bhowmik are keynote speakers at the “WaterWorks’’ conference on the state of the Kankakee River, held at Kankakee’s Hilton Garden Inn from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday. Go to or call (815) 935-1177.

Stray cast

Academics are to the
$80 million the feds threw at the Asian carp issue what insect larvae are to road-kill on a hot June afternoon.

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