Kimber Lee Kurilla (Ryan) was greeted at the pearly gates by a pack of beloved four-legged friends wagging their tails and embraced by the open arms of God and Elvis Presley on March 7, 2023.
Kim was born on August 3, 1960, in Las Vegas, Nevada, to James Ryan and Bonnie Banaszak (Hinrichsen). She was raised alongside two siblings, Starla McDaniel (Ryan) and James (Jimmer) Ryan. Growing up in Las Vegas meant spending lots of time at her grandfather’s ranch in the summer—which she dreaded because she didn’t like to get dirty or be anywhere near horse manure—but she loved playing with her cousins. Kim developed a love of music and would play singles on her little record player all the time. She knew every leaving and grieving song about love between the ages of six and eight. Her stepfather, Donald Banaszak, recalls Kim and a friend imitating The Supremes in their living room, practicing “Stop in the Name of Love” over and over again, trying to perfect their very pitchy routine.
Elvis Presley was one of Kim’s favorite—well—everything. She was a diehard Elvis fan from a young age and had the fortune of seeing him perform at the International Hotel in Las Vegas on two occasions. Both times she was lucky and tenacious enough to get herself a kiss from the legendary performer. One of those times, she sat close enough to lay her head on the stage as she watched him. Elvis had already made his rounds during “Love Me Tender” to kiss women in the audience and was just about to start “Hound Dog” when he saw Kim at the edge of the stage and told her, “I’ll be there in a minute...” and completely skipped the song to give her a kiss. Overwhelmed and weak-kneed, Kim sank to the floor and cried from pure joy for the rest of the show and wouldn’t get up no matter how much her mother and sister said she was embarrassing herself—Kim didn’t care—she was happy.
And that wasn’t the only time she had encounters with celebrities. Kim was pulled on stage to dance with the Jackson 5 during “Dancing Machine.” She met Paul Newman while working room service at Caesars Palace and while he was notorious for refusing to give autographs—Kim knew she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get one for her mother. After only a moment of being starstruck by the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, Kim asked the big question. Paul gave her an annoyed look but asked for her mother’s name. When she answered, “Bonnie,” Paul looked at Kim’s nametag and was surprised to see she wasn’t lying. He happily gave her the autograph.
When it came to style and class, Kim was in a world of her own. She was the first girl in her middle school to wear platform shoes. No matter the weather or practicality, Kim was dressed to the nines. Picture the curled and feathered hair of a Charlie’s Angel with the fashion and beauty of Lynda Carter, now drop her in the middle of Wyoming with 10-foot-high snow drifts while wearing a mini-skirt and high heels—and you realize quickly that Kim had her own way of doing things.
When she was able to work, Kim always had some job or another to fund her stylish appearance, even getting her sister’s job at a fast-food restaurant when Starla just didn’t show up one day. Kim stumbled into opportunities without even realizing it and made the best of them.
Her luck couldn’t have been better when it came to how she met her husband, Anthony (Tony) Kurilla. Their chance encounter happened at The Holiday Casino in 1981, when Kim was waitressing and Tony became a busser. At the end of the year, when the clock struck twelve, ringing in 1982, Tony surprised Kim while she was waiting at the time office to clock out. He pulled up, kissed her without saying a word, jumped back into his car and drove away. Clearly, Tony was smitten. After many years, multiple proposals, and the birth of their daughter, Trina, Kim finally agreed to marry Tony. Kim insisted she “only wanted to get married once” and wanted to make sure she was ready. With their two-year-old daughter in tow, they got married in front of the judge, but not before Trina took off with the ring and they had to chase her around the judge’s chambers before they could complete the ceremony. It was the beginning of a life together full of cherished memories.
After many years of trying to have another child, they were overjoyed to welcome their son Justin into their family. Kim was a wonderful stay-at-home mom and fiercely protective of her children—it was in her nature as a Leo, a lioness who was always defending her cubs. She read to them often and watched movies with them, inspiring a shared love of stories of all kinds. When they needed help, she was there for them. From scraped knees to fights with friends, she met them with open arms and comforting words—most times accompanied by colorful language.
Her generosity and kindness defined her and she extended that readily to strangers. She never refused to give a few dollars to anyone on the street who approached her when they needed help. When a girl in her daughter’s class in elementary school let it slip that she was living out of her car, Kim gave her daughter a toy to give to the girl in hopes of easing her hardship. And when the kids brought their friends over, they were always welcomed and well-fed.
Cooking recipes passed down from her mother was something Kim took pride in. Making Homemade Noodles was such a chore, but she was so satisfied once the tender noodles were served over her creamy mashed potatoes. Her Bacon Tomato Juice Noodles became a family favorite that offered comfort in every bite because Kim knew all too well that in life, you could never have too much crispy bacon. And her masterpiece—the giblet gravy recipe that her daughter refers to as liquid gold will continue to be made with loving care by Trina with the help of her longtime partner William Hopp.
Kim loved sports and watched them all, but she had a special fondness for basketball and football. She avidly followed the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels during Jerry Tarkanian’s reign as coach of the men’s basketball team. Football was another passion of Kim’s. She even called into a radio show on multiple occasions to lecture the hosts because they weren’t as informed about what they were talking about, and despite them trying to discredit her opinion because she was a woman—in the end, they agreed with her assessments. It earned her the honorary title of Coach Kimmie, among many others over her lifetime.
Dogs were a huge part of Kim’s life and her love of pugs was unequal. She bred pugs with a friend for a few years and amassed a pack of beloved family pets that followed her wherever she went.
Kim found so much joy in watching films, especially horror movies. Renting movies with her mother became a tradition she did with her daughter Trina who, despite being scared, was always game to be spooked, while her son Justin was happy to be excluded from consuming nightmare fuel. Kim got a kick out of tricking her husband and sister into watching scary movies with her and laughing as they white-knuckled their way through the films.
As a firm believer in astrology and a Leo, Kim knew her opinions were the right ones to listen to. When it came to earning her driver’s license, Kim was adamant if the Nevada DMV wanted her to drive on the “correct” side of the road, there should have been a white line there. There was no discussion about Thanksgiving dinner—the only way to do it was to baste and inject the turkey with butter every hour. If it took six hours to finish cooking—your hunger be damned—it was the right way. And if her dogs didn’t like you? That meant you were a bad person and based on the evidence—their wet noses, proved to always ring true.
Over Kim’s lifetime, she was many things—an Elvis connoisseur, a Pug Advocate, a Gravy-making Champion, a Wonder Woman lookalike, a Keeper of Odd Hours—in addition to being a daughter, sister, wife, and mother who didn’t have a bad bone in her body. She’s best remembered in the words of her daughter’s longtime friend, Meaghan Kosman (Mulligan), who described her as such, “Kim was a mythological creature that flowed into your house with long dark hair and a pack of pugs behind her, imparting wisdom on you regardless of whether you were old enough to understand, or ready to accept it.”
She is preceded in death by Bonnie (Mother), James (Father), and a menagerie of overdramatic dogs: Honey, Baby, Pugsley, Brutis, Pebbles, Barney, Cutie, Roxy, Buffy, Zoey, Brandy, Scotty, and Bandit that are more than happy to have their couch buddy back.
Left to joke about Kim’s silly antics and her coveted horror DVDs are her devoted husband Anthony (Tony) Kurilla, their two children Trina Kurilla and Justin Kurilla, her sister Starla McDaniel (Ryan) and brother-in-law Billy McDaniel, her brother James (Jimmer) Ryan, her stepfather Donald Banaszak, her nieces and nephews, and three equally opinionated dogs that will miss Kim sharing her meals with them: Cassie, Ginger, and Ralphie.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you make a donation in Kim’s name to your local pug rescue because those googly-eyed pups need lots of love or Hearts Alive Village. A graveside funeral service will be held on Monday, March 20 at 2:00 p.m. at Bunkers Eden Vale Memorial Park, where Kim will be laid to rest in the Garden of Remembrance. A reception will be hosted at Kim’s sister-in-law’s residence, Diane Haberman, following the service.