From Sept. 4, 1992, to July 31, 1995, J.R. Rardon was Kodiak sports. As a sportswriter for the Kodiak Daily Mirror, he shared stories of the island’s athletes while penning a humorous and enlightening column.
He set the bar high for every sportswriter who followed.
Rardon received the loftiest of compliments from the legend himself, Joe Floyd, when he uprooted for bigger newspapers.
“Over the 40 years I’ve been involved in sports, I think he, by far, did the best job we’ve ever had,” Floyd told the Daily Mirror for Rardon’s farewell story. “J.R.’s just done an outstanding job. We’re going to miss him a lot, and we wish him the very best.”
Rardon died in his Vancouver Island home on May 22 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 61.
Rardon, a native of Montana, landed a job with the Mirror after working for The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon. Nancy and Duane Freeman, publishers and owners of the Mirror, interviewed Rardon while vacationing in Oregon. He moved to Kodiak, with his wife Pam, two months later.
The first story Rardon wrote for the Mirror was on the Kodiak High School cross country team and his last was on a stockcar race at the Kodiak Island Raceway.
He covered everything from youth sports to older athletes clinging to their glory days.
He interviewed high school students to future stars. In 1994, he talked to East High graduate Trajan Langdon when he was part of a hoops camp on The Rock. This was before Langdon’s career at Duke and in the NBA. He also interviewed former MLB player Mike Robbins when he played for the Anchorage Bucs and visited Kodiak for a camp.
“J.R. was probably the Mirror’s first professional sportswriter,” said Nancy Freeman Wednesday morning. “He had a gift for writing positive, uplifting stories about Kodiak’s young athletes. He also recognized other talents and trained a high school intern named Sean Fulp. J.R. was so good we knew we couldn’t keep him forever. I was sad when he and his young family left.”
Cecil Ranney was the editor at the Mirror when Rardon arrived on the island. He said Rardon raised the level of sports reporting in the paper and was armed with a “sly sense of humor.”
“You had to be careful when he said something because you had to think about it to make sure he wasn’t making fun of you,” Ranney said.
Ranney recalled a story that Rardon wrote about a swimming relay where three of the four members of the team were named Ben. The fourth member was unknown at the time.
“He wrote a headline that said ‘3 Bens and a maybe.’ It was one that stood out with me,” Ranney said.
Kodiak residents sprinkled the Kodiak Sports History Facebook group with memories about Rardon’s time here.
“He was such a great writer at the Mirror,” Alice Knowles wrote. “He was one of a kind; he loved the community, and the community loved him. His work was exemplary.”
Patrick Floyd, the main contributor for the Facebook group, said many of the articles he shares were written by Rardon.
“JR was the main sports guy during my time in HS, so many of the articles from the ’90s are from him,” David Barber wrote. “Also, he would give me the negatives of the pics that he took from my matches and races so I could make copies for my photo albums.”
Rardon’s final byline in the Daily Mirror appeared on July 31, 1995. His Alaska adventure continued at the Peninsula Clarion and the Anchorage Daily News.
He still found a way to be part of a historic Kodiak moment when he covered the Bears’ 2001 state boys basketball championship game victory over East Anchorage for the ADN.
Doyle Woody, a former ADN sports reporter, took to Twitter when he heard of Rardon’s death.
“As good a dude as you will ever meet. Proud to have worked with him. Plus, he was funny as hell, king of deadpan.”
Rardon had been a reporter on Vancouver Island since 2006. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2018.
Rardon is survived by daughters Elena, Maia and Nora, and wife Pam.
Elena followed the career path of her dad and is now a reporter.
“I may be a writer, but there are no words for how much my dad meant to me and how unfair it is that he was taken from us so soon,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“He taught me how to shoot with a DSLR and helped me get my first job with a newspaper. He had a kind heart and a great sense of humour. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for him.
“I’ll always cherish the memories I have of him, and I’m so grateful for the time we were able to spend together. Rest easy, Dad. I love you so much.”
A service is not planned at this time due to the COVID-19 concerns. Donations can be made in Rardon’s name to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.