With sorrow, often comes memories of great times.
I’m finding both as I think of Charlie Kimbell, a friend who died a few days ago at 83. As the below reproduced copy of a 2004 article explains, Charlie owned one of the finest wetlands in Kansas.
I’ve been blessed with many days outdoors in many parts of the world. Some of my best days have been that great wetland Charlie owned and largely financed, letting our mutual friend, Bob Snyder, bring it to near perfection.
Scores of great memories have flashed through my mind like the slide shows of old, these few days since Charlie died.
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I’ve recalled the beloved days when our faces and hands were sleet-blasted by a freight train of a frigid wind straight from Alberta. Peaking from the blind on such days, we so often saw flocks of ducks and geese flying in and out of sight in near white-out views, waiting their turn to land on the marsh.
I can still feel the wetness in my eyes when my Lab, Hank, then 14, brought what I knew was his last-ever duck back to me in his more salt than pepper face at Charlie’s.
A few months later, new Lab, Cade, then five months old, splashed around with Tigger-like bounces, proudly holding the first teal of his hopefully long career at the other end of the wetland.
But as most waterfowlers know, what happens inside a duck blind is often more important than what happens outside. That was especially true with Charlie on a hunt.
Charlie did well in assorted financial endeavors. Personally, though, I thought his greatest accomplishment, besides raising two fine children in Mike and Kay, was his ability to enjoy his friends.
There was never a shortage of conversation between flights when Charlie was in the blind, and most of it involved humor. He was never shy with laughter. Sometimes, when all else was quite, Charlie would start chuckling and smiling at something he’d heard said hours earlier. Within seconds the entire blind would be laughing about it again.
I found it refreshing that a man of Charlie’s status and accomplishments took such enjoyment from the small things like watching someone, usually Bob, make a great shot. (He once asked if Bob was using a shotgun or a wand, because only a magician could have pulled a jet-like pintail down from so far above.)
Once it seemed he coveted the gift of a beloved Cherry Mash candy bar even more than a good stock market tip.
I didn’t hunt with Charlie his last few years. He didn’t go much, and when he did the blind was restricted to just Bob, his son, Russ, Charlie, and his son, Mike. And so it should have been, too, to maximize Charlie’s enjoyment at his marsh.
You know, it’s been said that good people go to better places when they pass. Charlie Kimbell was undoubtedly good enough to earn such a reward.
But if there is a place that’s better than the one Charlie left behind, even God was probably challenged a bit to create it.
It certainly will be even better now that Charlie Kimbell has arrived.
(Originally published in The Wichita Eagle in Nov., 2004)
RENO COUNTY - Coming in and out of Tuesday's low clouds, thin-necked pintails warily sailed the wind currents while flocks of hyper green-winged teal buzzed inches above bobbing decoys.
Between the low teal and high pintails, a half-dozen other types of ducks milled above the marsh.
"When I bought this quarter-section in the spring of '75, this was cattle pasture, " said Charlie Kimbell of Hutchinson. "People said out by Quivira was where the duck hunting was best. I figured if I had ground close by, it would be good. This place has been a lot of fun."
The land is about three miles from the refuge and came about when at an auction Kimbell heard the scaly white alkali soil was perfect for holding water.
A little summertime dirt work and the addition of an irrigation pump and Kimbell had his private wetland by fall.
Things have gotten steadily better.
Kimbell said his biggest break came when he met Bob Snyder of South Hutchinson that fall.
Born and raised working amid waterfowl clubs, Snyder knew what ducks needed and more.
"He also knew how to do all of the work, " Kimbell said. "I just furnished the place and paid for everything. I didn't have the time or the know-how."
Kimbell's pond became ankle-to knee-deep water where summer millet had been planted.
Blinds dotted the dikes and two sculpted islands to accommodate any wind direction.
An irrigation pump keeps a portion of the pond open long after others are locked in ice.
Kimbell and friends have enjoyed days at "Charlie's Pond" through the decades.
Retired and 72, Kimbell hunts three or four times a week before he'll join his wife, Sharon, at their winter home in California.
Mostly he hunts with Snyder.
Last weekend he kicked off his 30th opening day at the wetland with his son, Mike. Still, he's striving to make a great place better.
Over the summer, more dikes and water-control structures were added. Last year's 11-acre wetland could swell to about 50 acres.
Migrating waterfowl continue to appreciate the setting.
On a morning short on daylight but long on wind, seldom were ducks not on or over Kimbell's marsh.
Hundreds wanted with his decoys on the lee side of a berm.
Kimbell started the morning shooting two mallards. Within minutes, flocks of widgeon and gadwall settled into the decoys. Teal and pintails followed.
Four hunters had killed their limit of 24 ducks by 8:15.
Kimbell wants the gunning to be good for years to come, even after he's fired his final shot.
Upon his death, his son takes possession of the pond. A provision in Kimbell's will says Snyder is to keep the marsh up to current standards.
"I've loved coming out here, " Kimbell said. "I want them to keep it going."