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Senior abalone diver helps local nonprofit

Vernal Kimmey plans to go abalone diving north of Fort Ross, Calif., this week.

Then over the weekend, he’ll celebrate his 80th birthday.

The North San Juan resident has been an avid abalone diver since 1958, and he’s a member of the Seahorses diving club in Sacramento.



“When conditions are real good, it’s just a joy to be in the ocean,” Kimmey said.

He attributes his diving ability at an advanced age to staying active.




“Basically, I work. I have a garden. I maintain three vehicles,” he said.

For the past 10 years, Kimmey’s diving has taken on a special mission: His abalone are used in an annual fundraising dinner for Sierra Services for the Blind, helping to keep the local nonprofit in business.

Several years ago, Sierra Services greatly helped Kimmey and his wife, Kathryn, when she went blind. Today, Kimmey is a member of the board of directors of the group.

The dinner, set for Aug. 30 at Minters Foundry Cultural Center, “allows Sierra Services to keep going a little while longer. We raise about $10,000 a year from the dinner.”

An abalone is a sea snail considered by many to be a delicacy. “They are valued at about $100 a pound,” he added.

Each year, Kimmey contributes about 24 abalone to the dinner fundraiser, Kimmey said. California law mandates an individual can pick a maximum of three abalone a day and 24 abalone a year, he said. This year, Kimmey has already retrieved 12 abalone for the dinner, he added.

This week, Kimmey will dive for more.

Diving at 80

Kimmey dabbled in various professions over the years. He was an electronics technician at Aerojet-General Corporation in Rancho Cordova, a high school teacher in Sacramento, an independent salesman and a manager of apartment complexes, mini-storages and mobile home parks.

“After we moved to Grass Valley, my wife and I managed the Mountain Air mobile home park on Highway 49 for two and a half years,” Kimmey said.

When Kathryn Kimmey went blind, her husband turned his creative energies to helping the group raise money.

“Couple of years ago, I made them a 14-foot-long and 7-foot-wide pirate ship that was raffled off for $6,000,” Kimmey said. “I’m now building an airplane for children that will be suspended with cables and rise about 15 inches from the ground.”

Cooking is a family affair

Kimmey lives on his daughter’s 15-acre property in North San Juan. His three children – Jessica Munoz, 55, of Rancho Cordova, Carol Noble, 53, of North San Juan and Frank Kimmey, 52, of Sacramento – all come together to cook the abalone for the fundraiser.

“Abalone is milder than scallop and calamari, though the texture is like calamari, if it’s treated right,” Vernal Kimmey said.

After taking the abalone out of the shell, “you slice it and then pound it until it’s about to fall apart,” he said. “We dunk the abalone in egg yoke, coat it with cracker crumbs and then fry them hot and fast in canola oil.”

Despite the arduous task of cooking for more than 100 people, Noble said the group effort pays off.

“Every year, as a tribute to our mother, we do this to help Sierra Services stay in business,” she said. “When it’s all over with, I feel I’ve done something good. It’s exhausting, but it’s what my mother taught us to do – to reach out and help people.”

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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