SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Wednesday, we lost a man who has helped shape South Bend to what it is today. Joe Kernan was up in the mayor's office for 3 terms but never looked down on the citizens of South Bend.
He was not only known as a caring man who touched so many people's lives in the city but he also helped make South Bend better through hard work and dedication. He had a love for the city and everyone in it - and it showed.
“We’d asked him what the best job was that he ever had. You'd expect him to say governor, but he said the mayor of South Bend. And it's because he said, you know, it's just a question of scale as governor, you don't get to see when you walk out the door, the statehouse the effects of what you're doing, but in a city like South Bend, he said you could see it," Lou Pierce, a friend, and consultant of Joe's said.
“He was a very effective city comptroller, outstanding mayor, and governor. But I think most important of all, he was a loving person. He cared for everyone. And he was very honest," Roger Parent, a former South Bend mayor and friend of Joe said.
“What really impressed me about joe was, there are a lot of complicated issues in the city. And he was always able to kind of cut to the heart of it and find what is it that's really important here that we need to address," Stephen Luecke, another former South Bend mayor and friend said.
“Joe started the turnaround. We see it today. But it's hard to look back that far and see it. It started really with Joe," Pierce said.
“I think what joe really did was to bring new investment into downtown. He set the stage for the development of Leighton plaza. He began the initiative to renovate the morris performing arts center. The morris really became an anchor for downtown, bringing thousands of people downtown.” “he also reached out to neighborhoods, we wanted to make sure that we were investing in neighborhoods," Luecke said. "He just really brought a can-do attitude that perhaps needed to be ignited in the city.
“He started putting south bend back on the map. He took over his mayor, basically in the middle of the industrial revolutions decline in northern Indiana, and it had, you know, really affected the city of south bend in particular," Pierce said. "Hard at work on economic development, job creation. He talked about jobs all the time, what's the city without people who have jobs.”
“And because he was able to establish such great personal relationships with a lot of people, he was equally able to get a lot done for the city," Parent said.
“When joe was running for mayor back in 1987, he was determined to integrate the University of Notre Dame and the city more and work together on things. And the conversations were happening a lot," Pierce said. “The Morningside Hotel fire. So dozens of people all of a sudden, didn't have anywhere to stay. They were homeless. There had been a plan that the university was working on with local leaders. On developing something that would eventually be called the south bend center for the homeless. Well, it wasn't ready. It was nowhere near ready. When that fire happened, it was in a cold winter month of I think it was February. And those people had nowhere to go literally. Joe, the university and other leaders from around the town got together and they opened it the same day. And it's sort of set the table for what we see today where the university is really involved in especially economic development, social issues and part of the community more than ever before.”
“Grateful for Joel's life, grateful for what he brought to south bend for the path that he set us on that we continue to follow today," Luecke said.
It’s a sad day for many who knew Joe but it’s also a sad day for South Bend – losing such an iconic figure.