Remembering ‘Joe K’

The 4th Annual Joe Karnes Memorial Softball Tournament was held Saturday in Dunkirk and, as usual, the local softball diamonds were packed with his friends and the players he coached.

“It’s the best turnout so far,” his wife Cindy Karnes said. “We had 18 teams this year and it gets bigger every single year. Eighteen teams, that’s incredible. And for one guy. People loved him.”

One group of people in particular that loved Joe Karnes were his childhood friends who grew up with him in the Fourth Street area west of Central Avenue. Members of this group knew him simply as ‘Joe K’ and included young men with last names such as Dimmer, Alessi, Hammond, Snyder and Warren.

“Joe K, for us, was like Wally Clever to the Beaver,” Billy Dimmer said. “He was Wally, but he accepted Beaver’s friends. So we played football at his house, we played basketball, we played boxing and did a kicking game in the back. We did all of that stuff and it was always John and Joe K. And even though we were in a younger grade, he didn’t shun us. Kind of like Lumpy Rutherford would have to the Beaver.”

Dimmer, along with his brothers Brian, Bob and Barry make sure to represent Fourth Street as best they can in the tournament, providing their best effort this year, as their team took home the title for the first time.

“When I heard they were having this (tournament), I said, ‘We’ve got to come back and do the ‘Joe K’,'” Dimmer said. “We always used to hang around Fourth Street. The Fourth Street diamond, the Fourth Street basketball court. We used to play scatter and all kinds of things in the woods with the Snyders, the Hammonds, the Alessis and the Warrens. I said we’ve got to have a Fourth Street representation at the Joe Karnes Tournament. This is our third year doing it and it may be the last for some of the older crowd, but we still try to get his crowd, their generation, or guys that lived in the neighborhood. There had to be a connection to Fourth Street to be on the team.”

Dimmer, who lives on Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral, Fla., plans his yearly trip to his hometown around the tournament, but before Karnes’ passing, he always made it a point to see his longtime friend whenever he was home.

“I always made a point of going over to see him,” Dimmer said. “He lived in the family house that they grew up in grade school and high school and even later than that. It’s where the Karnes were. It’s where they were then and it’s where they are now. So yeah, it hurt a lot. He was one of ours, he was one of us and he was the first one to go.”

Talking to his friends, you could tell that Joe is someone whom they will never forget.

“I hung around with his brother John,” John Bongiovanni said. “And (Joe) was always around doing stuff. He was the type of person that you just loved being around because he was always happy for the kids or when other people did well. He never held grudges, he always had a quick whit about him and he was a gracious winner and a gracious loser.

“He was one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met or competed against,” Bongiovanni added.

Karnes, if you knew him, was a person you were not likely to forget and was someone who was constantly trying to help others no matter if you were on his team or not.

“He (coached) Little League for so many years,” Bongiovanni said, “and it didn’t matter which team it was, whether it was from Brocton, Westfield or Silver Creek, he treated everybody the same. He was the type of person that just loved the game and did everything good for everybody. He was just a man and a coach that you loved to be around.”

“I was talking to Amanda Kulig, who, at length, was telling me how important he was to her growing up,” Cindy Karnes added. “And that he gave her support and unconditional love and encouraged her to change her attitude and make her a better person. And she is and she gives (the credit) to him. That’s remarkable. It makes me cry. And I know he hears it and I know he knows. I miss him. Everybody does.”