Gene Clarence Kinkel was born to Sadie and Clarence Kinkel in Pine River, Minnesota on April 16, 1938. He was the youngest of five children. His father Clarence died when he was 3 years old and he was raised by a single mother who did her best to provide for her children. As Gene got older, he became the star pitcher of the Pine River baseball team, quarterback of the football team, and leading scorer of the basketball team. He was also involved in the school play, played the trumpet in the school band, and played the piano for his senior class graduation procession. School didn’t come easy for him, but his success in sports gave him confidence to be successful in any endeavor he pursued. The quote, “Greater men have lived, but I don’t believe it,” was included under his picture in the Pine River senior annual. Apparently his classmates knew of the success his life would have!
After graduating from Pine River High School in 1957 and living up to his nickname, The Atom Bomb Kid, he was recruited to play baseball for the Park Rapids Lions in the Hi-10 league where he met Luraine Breezee at Chateau Paulette’s and when he found out she worked at the Emerson Drive-In, he went there to buy his sister’s dog an ice cream cone. Well, he had to call the carhop (Luraine) back to order a burger. Then he had to call her back again to get more onions. And after a few more times of calling the carhop, it was evident that he really just wanted the carhop and not the burger or onions!
It turned out that the feeling was mutual and Luraine ended up following Gene to St. Cloud State University where he received a scholarship to play football. They were married August 22, 1959, in the chapel at Northern Pines campground in Park Rapids on Fish Hook Lake. After college, he worked for Sears Roebuck on Lake Street in Minneapolis where they lived for two years before they moved their young family with two children, Tony and Kim, to Park Rapids in 1963 where they would call home for the next 54 years.
In Park Rapids, he was manager of Pyrofax Gas Company for two years until he was sitting at Traveler’s Café on Highway 34 for his daily coffee and was propositioned with an opportunity to buy the laundromat across the street. He jumped at the offer and purchased the business in 1967. In 1970, he and Luraine built a new laundromat building with living quarters above for their growing family now that they had three children after Jay was born – The original Kinkel Laundry! That same year, his brother-in-law Harold Jones, married to his sister, Lavonne, owned the Jones Funeral Home and in those days the ambulance service consisted of a hearse and a bottle of oxygen. The new concept of EMTs was catching on even in rural Minnesota and Harold asked Gene to take over the ambulance side of the business. With this purchase, they started Jones Ambulance Service and Gene became one of the first Emergency Medical Technicians in northern Minnesota. In 1975, they purchased the Aitkin Ambulance Service and the Pine River Ambulance Service in 1980. Then, in later years, North Ambulance purchased all three services! With the selling of the laundry in 1978, Gene and Luraine were able to focus on the ambulance business, which would take them all the way into retirement, serving 32 years of 24/7, no 911, and no cell phones.
Gene’s success continued through many leadership roles, honors, and awards in the EMS world, such as an instrumental founding member of the Minnesota Ambulance Association in 1972, of which he also served as the director, as well as being appointed to the EMS Advisory Task Force in 1990 by the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, he was a leader in the community and was elected as Mayor of Park Rapids in 1980 after serving four years on the City Council. During his 12 year tenure as mayor he surrounded himself with a good team and spearheaded many projects for the city. Gene helped secure over $5.1 million in federal and state grants for the Dam Construction project, Southeast Neighborhood Improvement project, RDO plant, new airport and new City Hall, among others! During all these accomplishments, and after his other three children were grown and gone, Gene and Luraine had their last daughter, Kara, in 1983. After pursuing other projects for several years, he served another five years on the City Council from 2005-2009.
You might not think he would have time for any other activities, but he was a selfless servant with his time as he participated in the Park Rapids Rotary Club (past president), Park Rapids PTA (past president), Park Rapids Community Center (board member), Headwaters Regional Development Committee (member), and Webelos leader. He was awarded the Park Rapids Jaycees Boss of the Year in 1982, Park Rapids Jaycees Booster Award in 1986, and appointed by the Governor to the National Guard Citizens Committee. Gene loved to fish, golf, and would not miss his daily 10 a.m. coffee breakfast with his coffee buddies (and numerous other people who he would love to talk to). He always looked forward to his annual duck hunting trip to North Dakota with special friend, Gary Mills, where they hunted together for over 30 years. He had a strong faith and took pleasure in teaching the adult Sunday school classes at church and being involved in many activities with his church family, which included being a founding member of the Flaming Pine Youth Camp in Cook.
Gene will forever be remembered as the most loving and supportive husband, father, and grandfather. Aside from all the time Gene and Luraine dedicated to their own children, they were also foster parents for five years and hosted a foreign exchange student from Sweden. Gene couldn’t have had so much success without the support of his loving wife, Luraine. She says her fondest memories are after retirement when they would take long road trips to the ocean in Florida or Texas with Gene’s siblings and building their dream home on Fish Hook River, where they enjoyed long pontoon boat rides and evening campfires with family and friends.
Gene has survived by his wife; sister, Dolores Creighton, and brother, Merlyn Kinkel. He is preceded in death by his parents, his brother, Kenneth and sister, LaVonne Jones. Other important family members include children: Anthony (Melva) Kinkel of Stillwater, Kimberly Sleeper of Fort Collins, Colorado, Jay (Nancy) Kinkel of Park Rapids, and Kara (Dr. Erik) Scharrer of North Mankato; grandchildren: Darin (Erika) Grover, Sadie (Christopher) Dahlman, Brittany, Sarena, and Natatlie Kinkel, Jake Sleeper, Kellen Kinkel, Maida, Skogen, Klaasen, and Torsten Scharrer, Jennifer McGeady, Bret Bascue; great-grandchildren: Gracie Grover and Willa Dahlman; and several special in-laws, nieces, and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, December 2 at the Park Rapids Church of Christ with his brother-in-law, Gary Simmons and good friend, Scott Warne officiating. Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, December 1 at the Jones-Pearson Funeral Home in Park Rapids and will continue for one hour prior to the service at the church on Saturday. Interment will be made in the Greenwood Cemetery of Park Rapids. Following the service, a luncheon will be hosted by Gene’s church family at the Church of Christ.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred and will be donated to the American Parkinson Disease Association.
Arrangements were entrusted to Jones-Pearson Funeral Home. To leave on line condolences please visit www.jonespearson.com.