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Epilogue | Leonard J. Knopp

'Saltwater Cowboy' Leonard Knopp pursued a life of laughter

PORT RICHEY — The friends and family of Leonard J. Knopp mingled on a second-floor balcony, overlooking the waving palms and rippling Pithlachascotee River.

They prayed together, recited the 23rd Psalm, and shared their best memories of a man they said must surely be fishing with St. Peter in Heaven.

For Knopp, a self-described "saltwater cowboy" who grew up on the bayous and flats of Pasco County, the last respects included a few extras you wouldn't expect at the average funeral.

Like the white cards his friend Vinny Rosati printed up and handed out: Knopp's favorite chum recipe.

Like the signup sheet for a fishing tournament that will be held in Knopp's honor.

Like the open bar, on the second floor of Fatty-n-Mabel's Riverside Eatery, a setting he would have appreciated. "On the river, the boats, the fish jumping — he was an outside person," observed his son-in-law Sean Knighton.

Knopp, 55, was a mason and a Pasco County Utilities worker who excelled at fishing and friendship. His family set the "celebration of life" ceremony at Fatty-n-Mabel's because they wanted a service he would have enjoyed.

"My dad was not one for sad times," said his daughter Christine Knighton. "He was always about happy times and laughing."

Ed Healy remembers standing in a bait shop before sunrise one day about eight years ago, wondering out loud where to go fishing in Pasco County.

"Come on, I'll show you," said Knopp, who had never laid eyes on Healy before. That day they entered a fishing tournament and came in second. "He taught me the backwater," and became like a second father, Healy said.

Knopp's enthusiasm attracted others. He liked gathering friends for scalloping expeditions, with everyone staying along the Suwanee River.

One time with a crowd of people working eight boats, they found only four buckets of scallops. "Each one of those scallops cost us $78.75," chuckled his friend Beverly Matsik of Hudson.

On those trips with so many friends, "it was just like laughing until your sides started aching," said his wife Connie.

Knopp had his quirks. His daughter Chastity said at the ceremony that when thinking about her father, "the words that come to my mind would be: Good morning!" Everyone grinned at that. For some reason, if you called Knopp at any hour of day or night, he always responded: "Good Morning!"

If you boarded his boat with bananas, you could expect him to throw your lunch overboard. Bananas on the boat were bad luck. But little cans of Vienna sausage were a delicacy, and so was R&R Canadian whiskey.

A can of one and a bottle of the other were sitting on a table at the ceremony on Sunday. Beside them were seashells, a fishnet, and plenty of pictures of Knopp fishing with family and friends. Also his old white fishing hat, the signup sheet for the fishing tournament and a guest book.

One of the picture frames read: "Live for today."

Knopp's wife of 38 years, Connie, says she got to know him because her family moved next door to him in New Port Richey when she was 19 and he was 17. "He was awesome," she said. "He was good-hearted. Always thought of everybody else before himself."

He took it calmly when doctors told him in 2002 that he had cancer. He battled it for years, weathering chemotherapy and radiation. "He was tough," Connie Knopp recalled. But the cancer progressed and eventually, it was time to say goodbye to the man who always said good morning.

"He just told me I need to let him go," she said. "God was calling him."


Leonard J. Knopp

Born: July 19, 1953.

Died: April 14, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Connie; daughter, Christine Knighton; son-in-law, Sean Knighton; daughter, Chastity Knopp; future son-in-law, Darrell Bozeman; two grandchildren, Owen and Lyason Bozeman; sisters, Judy Osteen, Debbie Smith and Barbara Sprouse; and many nieces and nephews.

Special recipe

At Sunday's ceremony, Vinny Rosati handed out a card with a chum recipe Knopp used: 5 gallon bucket, one-fourth bucket of salt water, 1 loaf of wheat bread, 6 cans of cat food, 1 can of jack mackerel, 2 hands of white sand, 1 can of dog food, 3 cans of tuna fish, 6 cups of menhaden oil. Mix all ingredients until well blended.

'Saltwater Cowboy' Leonard Knopp pursued a life of laughter 04/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:30pm]
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