Joe Kernan, former South Bend mayor and 48th governor of Indiana died early Wednesday morning at the age of 74 following a long illness.
Kernan served as a Naval lieutenant during the Vietnam War. He and his co-pilot were shot down while on a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam in 1972. He spent 11 months as a POW in Hanoi
In 1974, he returned to South Bend to work in business. His political career began in 1980, when former South Bend Mayor Roger Parent asked him to serve as the city controller in his administration.
Kernan was elected as mayor in 1987 and served three consecutive terms before moving into state politics.
He served as Indiana’s lieutenant governor under Frank O'Bannon from 1997 to 2003. After O'Bannon's death from stroke in September 2003, Kernan filled O'Bannon's term as governor until 2005, losing a bid for reelection to Republican Mitch Daniels.
Many people in South Bend remember Kernan for what they describe as his positive, friendly nature and what he contributed to the city during his time as mayor.
Steve Luecke succeeded Kernan as South Bend mayor and served on the city’s common council during Kernan’s first term as mayor.
“Joe was a terrific leader,” Luecke said. “He had a great vision for the city and he had a great love for the City of South Bend. He brought out fierce loyalty in his friends, his family, and the community.”
Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy is a former president of the University of Notre Dame and attended Notre Dame alongside Kernan. He said Kernan helped strengthen the relationship between the University and the South Bend community.
“I always found him to be a very upbeat and energetic guy who wanted to serve the community well,” Malloy said. “I think he saw opportunities that he could make South Bend a better place and I was all in favor of that.”
Kernan and Malloy collaborated to establish the South Bend Center for the Homeless.
South Bend Cubs President Joe Hart said Kernan was also known for keeping minor league baseball in South Bend.
“Without Joe Kernan and his vision, there would be no minor league baseball in South Bend and that’s hard to think about because this is a facility now that draws people from 60 or 70 miles away on a frequent basis to visit our community and it gives us the opportunity to showcase South Bend and all it has to offer,” Hart said.
Arrangements are being handled by Welsheimer’s Funeral Homes in South Bend. There will be no public services at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Welsheimer’s Funeral Homes sponsored Kernan’s Little League team in 1958 when he was 12 years old.
This story will be updated.