Steve Kuykendall, a fixture in South Bay politics and everything military veteran-related, died Friday at home 18 months after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. He was 73.
Kuykendall, a Republican, began his political career as a city councilman in Rancho Palos Verdes in 1991, and served as mayor there in 1994. That year, he successfully ran for state Assembly, defeating incumbent Betty Karnette.
He successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, after Jane Harman gave up the seat to run for governor. Kuykendall served in the 106th Congress from 1999 to 2001. Harman ran for the seat again in 2000, narrowly defeating Kuykendall.
In addition to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, he represented portions of Long Beach in the state Assembly and Palos Verdes and the South Bay in Congress.
Kuykendall was born in McAlester, Okla., on Jan. 27, 1947. After earning a bachelor's degree at Oklahoma City University, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1968 through 1973, including tours in Vietnam. After the war, he attended San Diego State University, earning an MBA there, and worked in the mortgage banking industry.
He attempted to return to Congress in 2012, running for the newly created 47th Congressional District. He finished third in the primary, missing the runoff election, which was won by Democrat Alan Lowenthal.
In 2013, Kuykendall turned to an attempt to build a Fisher House in Long Beach next to the Veterans Administration (VA) Long Beach Healthcare System. Fisher Houses serve as temporary housing for family of veterans undergoing medical treatment at VA hospitals, similar to Ronald McDonald Houses at children's hospitals.
Kuykendall formed and chaired a fundraising committee with a goal of $3 million, to be matched by the international Fisher House Foundation.
“We were able to raise $3 million in three years and a little more beside,” Kuykendall said the week before the Long Beach house opened in 2016. “We were just blown away by the generosity, and the patriotism, the community showed.”
His cochair on the fundraising committee was Terry Geiling, executive director of the Gold Star Manor at the time. He and Kuykendall pivoted to create the Fisher Houses of Southern California Foundation, supporting houses at Camp Pendleton and Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.
"He was chair, and as was typical with Steve, he had a hand in everything," Geiling said Monday. "When it looked like he would be stepping down, we had to look to divide up all the work he was doing among several people."
Kuykendall was a longtime resident of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where he and his wife Jan raised three children. He served on multiple boards there.
Geiling said there would be a small ceremony for family only soon, with a celebration of life after the coronavirus abates.
Kuykendall is survived by his wife, Jan Kuykendall, daughter Kerry (Matthew) Smith, son Brent (Salvatrice) Kuykendall, son Craig (Lauren) Kuykendall. He was especially proud of his seven grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, he requested donations to the Peninsula Education Foundation or Fisher House Southern California.
Note: This story was updated to correct when and where Steve Kuykendall died, and details of his public service.