John Kavchar, 62, of Silver City, NM, died on June 7, 2014, doing a thing he loved in a place he loved: riding his horse Sundance in the Gila National Forest.

John was born on May 22, 1952, in Minneapolis, MN, and grew up in the nearby suburb of Fridley. As a young man he left home and began a life of travel and adventure that took him across the United States and the world, including a year-long trek through Mexico and South America, during which he taught himself Spanish. His work life included stints as a truck driver, private investigator, bartender, gentleman rancher, PR man for a race-car team, deputy marshall in Telluride, CO, and claims investigator for Lloyds of London.


At his death he was president and part owner of LC Aero, an airplane repair shop in Las Cruces. Fifteen years ago he and his wife Miquette Magnusson moved to the Silver City area and began working as the fire lookouts on Signal Peak, a job he continued after her untimely death from cancer in 2002. He loved to fly his own airplane, a Cessna Cardinal, and signed on as an air angel, flying patients in need of medical care to distant hospitals free of charge. He also loved race cars, in particular his Ford GT40, the first American-made car to win the 24-hour race at LeMans and a machine he was known to drive at more than 130 miles per hour when he felt the need for speed.

He enjoyed both solitude and the company of loved ones in equal measure. He did not settle for a handshake from friends. If he cared about you he greeted you with one of his trademark bear hugs. He was also one of those rare men who would cry with you, unashamed, when tears were called for. He was a handsome fellow, playful and mischievous, a rare genius in the art of living boldly—not without struggle or disappointment along the way, but in spite of that, or because of that, he was a man willing to get intimate with friends, to ask the tough questions and go heart deep with you on any subject under the sun, no exception.

His curiosity was insatiable. He had no tolerance for injustice and loved to conspire with friends over ways to fight it. Yet he remained light of heart, a trickster, an adventurer, one of those shining knights with huge reserves of empathy whom you meet once or twice in this life if you’re lucky. He’d bring food to your house if you got sick. He’d call to check in if he knew you were blue.

At his post on Signal Peak he made elaborate meals to share with long-distance hikers and showed children how a few dabs of red lipstick could lure hummingbirds to drink sugar water straight out of his mouth. He knew the company of mule deer and turkeys and bears and bobcats in the area around Signal Peak, and over the years he called in hundreds of fires in the Gila, including most recently the Signal Fire. Within an hour of spotting it he’d been forced to evacuate his tower with his fiancée Teresa Beall, herself a lookout on the Gila for 24 years and the woman with whom he looked forward to spending the rest of his life.

He made no big deal of their rush to safety, joking afterward about needing to hit the hot tub as soon as he got home, since it had been an unusually vigorous and exciting day at the office, even as he took it upon himself to personally update local landowners on the progress of the fire. He laughed more than any man we knew, as often as not at himself, his torso leaning back, his blue eyes glittering and his belly shaking, a laugh that all who knew him will always remember.

Among his colleagues in the Forest Service he will be missed for his communication skills, his deep knowledge of the country, his unmistakable radio voice, and his keen eye for smoke. He was preceded in death by his parents, Peter and Agnes. He is survived by his fiancée, Teresa Beall, of Silver City; his sister, Hedy Holmberg, of Edina, MN; and nephews Michael and Andrew.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition at P.O. Box 552, Pine, CO 80470. All who knew and loved him are invited to a memorial potluck to be held at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 27, at the Little Walnut Campground (spillover parking available at the Gomez Peak Group Area). Please bring a dish to pass and a story to share.

                                                                                                                           —Phil Connors


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