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San Clemente Journal

Kenny Nielsen, a Life on the Sea - April 7, 1947 - May 22, 2022

Aug 29, 2022 02:26PM ● By Tom Marshall

Kenny, sharing local fishing history on a PierPride Cruise.

by Tom Marshall 
San Clemente Historical Society

There may not be a statue of Kenny Nielsen in San Clemente but there are monuments to him throughout town. If you walk on the beach trail, it’s because he led the charge to build it. If you have enjoyed a day at North Beach, it’s because he helped restore it. If you are pleased that the kelp beds off the pier are recovering and attracting more sea life, it is because he led the cause. If you enjoy surfing at San Onofre, he helped make that happen as well. 

The former sea captain, ocean researcher, diver and surfer passed away May 22 at the age of 75.  Leaving behind a legendary life dedicated to the sea and its shores. He is remembered by family and his many, many friends as a man who not only loved the sea; he respected it.
His daughter, Jennifer Cuda, tells us Kenny’s early years were spent fishing and swimming in the ocean off San Clemente. She tells us that on land we can all look at a map or see landmarks and know where we are, but he could travel over the sea and tell you what is under it. He knew it that well.  “I am so proud of him. He turned his hobby into a career first as a commercial fisherman selling sea food to local restaurants. He then started Sea Ventures Incorporated with his business partner Bob Lohrman, a life-long friend,” said Cuda.   

Lohrman picks up the story from there. “We did scientific work focusing on water quality sampling and the environmental effects on fish and other sea life, for various governmental agencies.” Forty-seven years later, the company is still in business.  
Not all of his causes came to fruition. Nobody wins 100%. He once arranged for the replenishment of San Clemente’s beach sand. But for reasons he never really understood, the city turned him down. However, his victories far outweighed his losses.

About a decade ago, Casa Romantica hosted a months-long exhibition of artifacts and photographs of Kenny’s life on the sea. Former Casa Executive Director Jennifer Finley remembers, “We hardly even had to promote the event. His legion of fans and supporters all turned out. We were mobbed.”  

He didn’t limit himself to issues related to the sea. He was very active in local environmental causes. He was even involved in local political and government issues. That interest was sparked when only in the eighth grade; Kenny became San Clemente Police Chief…for a day, courtesy of a school program that arranged for students to spend a day shadowing local government leaders. 
Later in life, Kenny got very involved with community leaders for real. “Once I was on the city council, he called me every Wednesday to critique how I was doing. He was very frank. But, even when he disagreed with me, he always ended the call by saying that I was doing a great job,” remembers Mayor Gene James.

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