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March 23, 2013

Local icon dies at age 99

JOHNSTOWN — Charles W. Kunkle Jr., one of the most prominent and influential figures in both the region’s business and sports scenes, died Saturday. He was 99.

Known better as “Kunk” to those closest to him, Kunkle was a champion for the city of Johnstown.

“I don’t know of any one man who has done more for the people of Johnstown than Charlie Kunkle, not only in the sports world but in the business world,” said Don Hall, a close friend who Kunkle recruited to join the Johnstown Jets professional hockey team in 1951. “He was very generous.

“He was an innovator in many ways. He started the Sunnehanna Amateur. He got hockey to come to Johnstown originally. He was instrumental in the building of the War Memorial.”

In sports, Kunkle played basketball at Duke University, where he captained the Blue Devils 20-6 squad during his senior season.

Kunkle took up golf after college and grasped the game quickly. He earned berths in the United States Amateur Tournament five consecutive years and played in the 1958 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. He won 10 Sunnehanna Country Club titles and was the force behind the creation of the Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions, one of the amateur game’s most prestigious events.

He also started the Cambria County War Memorial Invitational Basketball Tournament, which once was considered among the best holiday events in the country and lasted five decades.

“Kunk was a great sports figure. He was phenomenal in basketball. He played in the Masters. He went to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur,” said Joe Shorto, the retired Sunnehanna Country Club golf professional. “He was a great thinker, an unbelievable human being.”

As a businessman, Kunkle was the longtime chairman of Laurel Corp., a multi-business holding company. Kunkle served as president of Laurel Management Co., which operated the water system for the Greater Johnstown Water Authority. He had joined the former Johns-town Water Co. in 1936 and in 1955 became vice president and general manager.

Kunkle’s community service led to major improvements in the region.

He was a founder and president of Cambria County War Memorial Inc. Kunkle was a key organizer as the War Memorial Arena project and fundraising began in the late 1940s and into 1950, when the building opened.

Kunkle spent 10 years as president of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Advisory Board and was the first chairman of Johnstown Area Regional Industries (JARI).

When jobs started to decline at Johnstown Plant, Bethlehem Steel Corp. and in the coal industry, Kunkle and other civic leaders formed JARI to attract new and more diversified businesses and industries.

Kunkle accomplished so much in business and sports that he was inducted into the inaugural classes of both the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame in 1965 and the Greater Johns-town/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame in 1992.

“Kunk was everything to Sunnehanna,” Shorto said. “He was a pillar in the community. Two things Kunk always tried to promote were Johnstown, Pa., and the Sunnehanna Amateur.”

Picking-Treece-Bennett Mortuary Inc., 921 Menoher Blvd., is in charge of arrangements.

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