KANKAKEE – Dennis Yohnka, former Herald-News employee and Joliet Township High School spokesman, died Monday at age 68.
Posts on Yohnka’s Facebook page indicate he was hospitalized Sunday night. Friends said he recently had heart issues.
The Herald-News brought Yohnka to Joliet in the 1990s as the paper’s marketing director and he went on to cover local auto racing as a freelance writer during the time he worked for the school district from 1998 to 2008.
“I loved to use him because he not only knew what was going on [during races],” Herald-News Sports Editor Dick Goss said Tuesday, “He could find someone you wouldn’t have thought was a story in the first place and come up with something very interesting. Sometimes a very off-the-wall story.”
Goss said Yohnka’s enthusiasm for motorsports also helped the paper’s coverage when the Chicagoland Speedway brought national events to Joliet.
Goss also said the late Herald-News Publisher Marx Gibson delighted in telling about the time Yohnka brought a horse into the newsroom during their days at the Kankakee Daily Journal.
“I think just about everybody who was there for that story has gone to the great newsroom in the sky, but I’ve no doubt it’s true,” said Yohnka’s longtime friend, Jim Murphy.
Murphy, of Joliet-based J.V. Murphy & Associates, met Yohnka in 1980 when they both worked in Kankakee media.
“He was quite simply the funniest guy I ever knew,” Murphy said. “He had a warped sense of humor, but he expressed it in a very intelligent way.”
From their time in Kankakee, Murphy verified the stories of Yohnka bringing a medical exam table into a bar for laughs and the time Yohnka arranged for a live turkey to make an appearance in a classroom during a school fundraiser around Thanksgiving.
In 2005, Yohnka went to McDonald’s restaurants in Joliet and Crest Hill for lunch and dinner for 50 days and lost 40 pounds eating salads with chicken. His diet made national news as a counterpoint to the negative effects of a fast-food diet shown in the documentary “Super-Size Me.”
Yohnka also attempted to open a bed-and-breakfast in the Cathedral area, but was unable to obtain the necessary approvals, before he returned to the Kankakee paper as a reporter and columnist.
Yohnka is survived by his wife, Terry, four children and 12 grandchildren, according to the Daily-Journal.