By Mike Fletcher
---- — As John Martino prepared the boaters and young fisherman for the 30th annual Jim “Moose” Carden Kids Fishing Clinic, he got an unexpected surprise.
Former Kokomo mayors Jim Trobaugh and Steve Dailey along with Rep. Mike Karickhoff presented Martino with the Sagamore of the Wabash award, the most prestigious award given by the governor.
“The city of Kokomo is a better place to live since John came here,” Trobaugh said.
Martino, the superintendent of the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department, earned the award for his dedication to the community and for his part in making the kids fishing clinic a staple in Kokomo.
Martino received the award just prior to the start of the annual graduation tournament at the Kokomo Reservoir Park on 500 East. The more than 140 kids and 70 boat captains on hand applauded Martino just before heading out on the water.
“This clinic started with humble beginnings,” said Daily, who hired Martino 31 years ago.
“He came to me one day and asked if the city would sponsor a kids fishing clinic and it’s been going ever since. John has done a lot of great things for this community. I’m very proud of him. I thank you for all your hard work over the 30 years.”
“Wow,” Martino said of receiving the award.
“To have Mayor Daily to my right, who hired me … I’ll never forget that day. I ask him if we could try it and he said yes. And to my left, Mayor Trobaugh. When he was in office I couldn’t keep him away from the clinic.
“I am deeply honored and touched,” Martino continued. “I can’t accept this. But, I will accept this on behalf of all the volunteers, instructors and boat captains, who made this possible.”
Martino has worked for the parks and recreation department for 30 years rising from the ranks of seasonal worker to the superintendent. He also is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist.
Carden, a fellow outdoorsman and writer, along with Martino started the clinic in 1984. Carden passed away after a battle with cancer in 1990.
“This has been a good thing for the community and for the kids,” Martino said. “And it’s the only fishing clinic of this size in the United States.”
Since its inception, the clinic has taught more than 4,000 kids.
In 1999, the clinic received national attention by receiving induction into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as the top youth fishing program in the United States.
Then in 2008, the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns selected Kokomo’s Kids Fishing Clinic as the top outdoor oriented youth program organized by a municipality, Martino said.
“This tournament has set the standard for all kids fishing tournaments.”
Martino is retiring from the parks and recreation department at the end of the month to work for Ivy Tech, but said he will always be involved in the fishing clinic.
“His dedication, fortitude and stellar work ethic have been an incredible asset to Kokomo over the years,” said Karickhoff. “John as acted as the leader Kokomo needs to preserve our environment and make smart decisions about our natural resources.”