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The life and legacy of former Governor Joe Kernan

NOW: The life and legacy of former Governor Joe Kernan

Joe Kernan served the Hoosier state as the mayor of South Bend and governor. He was not only a public servant and trusted leader, but also an advocate and true fan of the city he called home most of his life.

Kernan was born in Chicago on April 8, 1946 and was the oldest of nine children.

His family moved to Michiana and he graduated from St. Joseph High School and the University of Notre Dame.

Kernan's life-long passion for baseball led him to be the starting catcher for both the Indians and the Irish.

It also led to a meet-up with his future bride, Maggie.

“It was my senior year playing at Purdue, I was playing second base. There’s Maggie, she was a freshman at Purdue. I hollered her name, my baseball holler, 'Hey Maggie,'" Kernan said in an archived video.

Kernan entered the navy in 1969 as a flight officer.

In May of 1972, Kernan’s plane was shot down while on a mission over North Vietnam.

He was captured and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.

For his service he earned numerous awards including two purple hearts and a commendation medal.

Kernan began his work as a public servant in 1987 when was first elected mayor of South Bend.

He was re-elected in 1991 and won 82 percent of the vote when he won in 1995.

“It’s the best job I've ever had. It was among the most rewarding things I've ever been able to do recognizing that anything that is worthwhile that I was involved with was because of other people," Kernan said of being the mayor of South Bend.

During his time leading the city he was instrumental in job creation, strengthening finances and bringing in the College Football Hall of Fame downtown.

By the mid 90’s South Bend wasn’t just the home of the Fighting Irish but a growing destination spot.

"Just good people that had the best of the community at heart. It makes the job much easier and it makes it much more fun and that has always been for me, one of the things I think is important is to have fun, have fun in your job," Kernan told ABC57 in 2018.

Already the longest serving mayor in the city’s history Kernan then turned his attention to the state.

In 1996 he was elected Lt. Governor of Indiana and took over as governor when Frank O’Bannon passed away in 2003.

Even after serving at the capitol, he vowed to spend the rest of his days in South Bend giving back to the community that he loved so much.

“My grandfather used to say you are only as good as your ball club and he was right," Kernan told ABC57.

One of his first accomplishments upon returning was saving baseball in South Bend.

He partnered with more than 50 other members of the community to buy the Silver Hawks in 2005

He handed over the reins to Andrew Berlin and the Cubs organization 6 years later.

"I think one of the important things that I was involved in, a community our size needs to have amenities like that and I think if we had let the team go, psychologically, it would've been horrific for the city, but having it there we now see what's come of that and it couldn't be better," Kernan told ABC57.

Kernan continued to devote his life to his adopted hometown until his health declined due to Alzheimer's.

Vietnam War hero, dedicated public servant, loving husband and true son of South Bend, Kernan died at the age of 74.

Because of COVID 19 there will be no public services for Governor Kernan at this time.

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