A Tuolumne man who served as the pastor for three Tuolumne County churches for the past decade died of a heart attack Thursday.

The Rev. John Kimbell, 66, who was known in the community as "Pastor John," died at Sonora Regional Medical Center.

He led congregations at Tuolumne and Soulsbyville United Methodist churches and at Morgan Chapel in Sonora.

The Stafford Springs, Conn., native was known for organizing a program that fed 40 to 60 local homeless people each week. He also led activities that brought area churches together.

"He believed passionately in the community and he believed in this community," said his daughter, The Rev. Shannon Kimbell-Auth, of Lakeport.

Kimbell began serving as pastor in the county in July 2002, after the United Methodist Church relocated him from Battle Mountain, Nev., where he was a pastor for about two years.

Kimbell knew as a child that he wanted to be a minister but his dreams were put on hold when he was drafted into the Vietnam War after high school.

He served in the Army from 1967 to 1970 and earned a National Rifle Association Marksmanship Badge.

Shortly after he was discharged from the military, Kimbell was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for more than a week and he was faced with the challenge of learning to walk again.

After recovering, he experimented with careers including computer software sales in Iowa and real estate in Southern California before entering a five-year intensive study program through Claremont School of Theology while in his 50s.

In 2009, Kimbell lost his wife, Kitty, whom he met in youth group when he was 12 years old. He was remarried about two years ago to Tuolumne churchgoer Debra Fawn Kimbell.

"He would give you the shirt off his back," Debra said of her husband.

In 2010, Kimbell took a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel, where he proudly served communion in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Kimbell's family said he loved to sing gospel music, whether he was at church, at home or riding in the car.

When asked about his singing voice, Kimbell's family said in unison that "he liked to make a joyful noise."

The pastor organized a community sing-along once a month "just to get people together," Kimbell-Auth said.

"He will definitely be deeply missed by us, as well as the community," Debra Fawn Kimbell said.

John Kimbell is also survived by his daughter, Kimberle Hill, of Riverside; his siblings Bryan Kimbell, of Eugene, Ore., and Dawn Marie Green of Springfield, Ore., and five grandchildren.