Eugene Knaga

BOURBONNAIS — Eugene “Gene” Knaga, 88, of Clewiston, Fla., and formerly of Bourbonnais, passed away at his home Thursday (Feb. 11, 2021) of natural causes. Eugene was born Sept. 9, 1932, in Crown Point, Ind. He was the son of Zigmond and Carolina Knaga.

He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

Gene married Nedra Paulette “Polly” Reece on Nov. 9, 1964, at St. Rose Church in Kankakee; she survives.

Also surviving are two children, Eugene Jr., of Atlanta, Ga., and Cheryl Schroeder, of Woodbine, Ga.; two grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

Preceding him in death were his parents; his brothers, Joe (Jean) and Ed (Rose) Knaga; and his sisters, Sophie (Carlo) Bartos and Helen (Frank) Kaczmarek.

Polly was his closest friend, business partner, devoted travel companion and most steadfast love. Anyone close with Eugene knew the only thing he loved more than fishing was Polly. He was not afraid to loudly voice his admiration or show physical affection to her. They were a fun couple to watch. Eugene and Polly raised two children, Eugene Jr. (aka Little Eugene) and Cheryl Ann; he raved about them whenever given the chance.

Eugene and Polly also built two businesses. An article in The Daily Journal once described Eugene as “the Brett Favre of food vendors,” a testament to his delicious steaks but also to his community admiration. He was truly a man of the people. Eugene (or Mr. K as he was called) treasured sharing stories with people. There are multiple generations of people at fairgrounds across the Midwest and in Clewiston’s fishing community who could tell you an interesting thing about Eugene. He would have made a brilliant politician. People may forget what Eugene said (probably not though), but they did not forget how special he made them feel.

He was fiercely devoted to his family and had an incredibly mischievous sense of humor. He assumed the role of family patriarch more than 30 years ago. He surrounded himself with his family in Illinois, Indiana and Florida and kept multiple generations of a large dispersed group in touch.

Eugene did not want a funeral; he was not one for ceremony or “depressing” things. Polly and his children will host two life celebrations: One in Clewiston and the second in Kankakee (dates and times to be announced). He would want all who knew him to celebrate wherever they are on these days.