— Thomas Jefferson
We lost Mr. Vegetable on Feb. 4. My dear old friend Gene Klump passed away at the sweep, ripe and harvestable age of 81.
He looked like a trimmer version of Santa Claus in the summertime with his trademark overalls and jaunty straw hat covered in peppers and apples — an organic Carmen Miranda.
Gene’s fine and funny mind would not and could not be confined to just one thing.
This is from his family: “Gene joined the Coast Guard at age 15 and served in the U.S. Army in the late 1940s. He later moved to Los Angeles where he worked for Southern Pacific Railroad. He traveled extensively as an itinerant musician which took him to Alaska where he worked for the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Railroad and as a radio DJ. He also ran a bar.
“In 1963, Gene and Jane (his wife of 47 years) moved to Reno and opened Geno’s Studio, a bookstore, coffee house and art gallery. In 1966, Gene co-founded the Silver Circle Arts Council, attended UNR and resumed playing music. In 1969, Gene was photo lab manager for Studios Kaminsky. In 1973, Jane and Gene bought an acre of land which became Marigold Farms. Gene was a master gardener with UNR’s Cooperative Extension Service and developed a program called ‘Mr. Vegetable’ for school districts. In 1989, Gene started a radio career with ‘Mr. Vegetable’s Garden Talk Line’ on KQLO, retiring in 2006 from KBZZ. He received a National Association of Broadcasters award, taught gardening at TMCC, was Captain Sheepdip in 1970, and reported weather data to the National Weather Service.” He was a certified climatologist.
Venerable Reno newspaper columnist Ty Cobb wrote that Gene’s first local job was as a light man for floor shows at the Riverside Hotel. He performed with Bill Clifford’s house band in the legendary Mapes Sky Room. He was a Musicians Union trumpet player.
A remembrance of Mr. Vegetable happens at 1:00 p.m. on this Valentine’s Sunday on (where else?) the premises of his longtime patron, The Garden Shop Nursery at 3636 Mayberry Drive in Reno.
I first got to know Gene more 20 years ago when Travus T. Hipp, Sam Shad, Eddie Anderson, Bruce Breslow, Dan van Enoo, Nels Larsen and I were knocking KKKOH’s ratings into a cocked hat.
On the air, Gene and I worked together getting out the word about dangerous aflatoxin in the fresh corn people were buying at local grocery stores. Where else but from Mr. Vegetable’s column in Senior Spectrum would you learn that tilling your soil in the dark results in far fewer weeds to pull?
My favorite Gene Klump moment came one day at KHIT 1590 AM. The great comic actress Joanne Worley (“Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”) was in town performing in a Reno Little Theater production. She asked me how to find magnolia blossoms called for in the script.
On cue from the next room, in walked Gene in full Mr. Vegetable drag.
“I’m Mr. Vegetable. Magnolias are out of season, but honeysuckle isn’t.”
Worley didn’t miss a beat.
“Oh, Mr. Vegetable, you’ve saved us!”
I volunteered that I had a whole hillside of honeysuckle just outside my front door and would bring some to the theater.
For my efforts, she kissed me on the cheek. Sometimes when I’m shaving, that spot of skin still glows, as do all my memories of Mr. Vegetable.
He leaves lasting legacies both tangible and intangible. Mr. Vegetable spent a lot of time going to area schools and spreading the seeds of his vast knowledge. He was the featured face on a Sam Shad-produced water conservation campaign.
“Plants don’t waste water, people do,” he said.
If you drive on the eastern McCarran loop going south of Mill Street almost to Meadowood Mall, you will enjoy miles and miles of mature trees on your right. Mr. Vegetable went on the air to recruit volunteers to plant them all on a Saturday 20 years ago. Almost all survived under his expert guidance.
The work of Mr. Vegetable lives forever.
Keep the Mushrooms in the Dark
Litigation by three Michigan communities against Comcast cable has been settled and their public, educational and government access TV stations will remain viewable on the low-cost basic tier. Thanks to the greed of those wonderful folks at Charter Communications and the spinelessness of the Sparks and Reno city councils, about one in six Charter cable customers could not view the packed legislative town hall meeting at Reno City Hall on Saturday. More than 100 people signed up to testify. Reno at least toyed with the idea of suing Charter while Sparks and the Washoe County Commission sat shiva. Lawsuits work.
On the Air
The next Barbwire live TV special airs Feb. 21 at 6:00 p.m. on Sparks-Reno-Washoe Charter cable channels 16, 216 and 80-295, rerunning at 9:00 p.m. on CW Network cable 6 and over-air digital 27.2 and analog 46.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.