Joe Klimovitz of Hesperia may say he’s “retired,” but there’s little sign that this is actually true for him. After an active career in journalistic photography and videography starting in 1972, he has been assigned to cover the 2021 Olympics in Japan this summer, assuming they are held. And this is in addition to his significant volunteer work here in the area. In short, it seems he’s still very busy keeping up with both his free-lance work and his community involvement.
Klimovitz grew up in Baltimore, Md., where he attended Catholic elementary and high school, and then graduated with a degree in Business Administration/Accounting from Loyola University Maryland. This doesn’t sound like the expected education for his ultimate career, but Klimovitz explains, “I took an elective course in photography and just fell into journalism.” He did local TV in Baltimore, Phoenix, New York and Chicago, and ultimately worked for several years at WBBM in Chicago. “I worked with Bill Kurtis on PBS documentaries,” he says. “We traveled around the world for ‘New Explorers,’ an environmental documentary on the rain forest and deforestation in South America.” In 1986, they went with an ethnobotanist to Brazil and Peru and stayed with the Tiro Indians in Saranam, Peru, learning about what they did there to preserve their environment.
In addition to the work with Bill Kurtis on environmental documentaries, Klimovitz traveled to Viet Nam just as it normalized its relations with the United States, to Chernobyl to investigate the health and status of babies there, and he was at ground zero after 9-11. He was also one of the first embedded videographers during Operation Freedom, moving from Kuwait to Baghdad over a two-to-three-month period with a Marine division.
“I’ve covered natural disasters like floods and tornadoes, and domestic terror like the first school shooting at Columbine,” Klimovitz reports. “I still have a hard time dealing with things I’ve seen at times. You see so much hardship and misery, and you try to shrug it off, but sometimes it comes back and hits you in the face.”
He has participated in reporting on several Olympics, and is thrilled to say that if he is able to cover the Olympics in Japan this summer, he will have covered nine Olympics altogether. “I do the videos for interviews with athletes, features, coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies – all working with a sports news crew,” he relates. For his work, he has earned four National Sports Emmys for the 2004, 2010, 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
He has also earned six local Emmy Awards for news, three during his time in New York and three at WBBM-TV in Chicago; a George Foster Peabody Award; and a Radio Television Digital News Association Edward R. Murrow Award.
Since 1997, Klimovitz has worked as a freelancer. “I bought $500,000 worth of equipment,” he notes. “We were going to settle in Steamboat Springs, Colo., but the business just didn’t translate to the West. My wife’s parents owned 450+ acres in Hesperia, and gave us 40 acres on which we built a house where I continue to operate the freelance business.” Most of his work has been for NBC News, covering the Midwest area, but he laughs, “They call you and say, ‘Can you be there,” or ‘Go here,’ and I go.”
These days, Klimovitz declares, “My passion is conservation,” a passion that began years ago while doing the environmental documentaries with Bill Kurtis. More recently, he became an Associate Board Member for the Oceana Conservation District in 2019, and was appointed as a full Board Member in 2020. He will be running for one of three open seats in the next election for the Board.
He has honored his commitment to the environment on his own property as well. Working with the District’s Director Suzie Knoll, he established pollinator fields on nine acres of the property, where tall grasses and flowers serve as a positive environment for bees and other insects. The fields require little maintenance, though he says he hopes to do a controlled burn this spring if he can get the Fire Department to come out. He explains, “The last couple of years I’ve cut them down, but if we could burn them, they’d come back tenfold.” The District had planned a fundraiser and tour last summer on the property, but with Covid it had to be canceled. Klimovitz is hopeful that if the District can get people together this spring and summer, a tour can be held then.
In other conservation efforts, Klimovitz has worked with the District and other volunteers, cutting down trees and widening paths at the Otto Nature Preserve, which is operated by the District. To promote the cause, he takes a lot of still photos around the County and changes the title photos on the District’s Facebook page every week to maintain interest.
Beyond his volunteer work with the Conservation District, Klimovitz more recently accepted an appointment to the Board for the Oceana Community Foundation, and he reports, “I’m getting to know what’s going on with the Foundation.” In addition, he works with his wife, Cathy Forbes Klimovitz, who started a weekend feeding program through the Hesperia Community Schools. The program now provides 75 kids with meals for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday each week.
Clearly, despite his “retirement”, Klimovitz’s life is full of interesting opportunities for work and service. “It’s our part since we retired – to give back to the community,” Klimovitz emphasizes. “If I can help someone in the community to a better life, I’m happy to do it.”