Friends and neighbors weigh in on the legacy of Joe Kernan
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Joe Kernan was called many things throughout his life: deputy mayor, aviator, mayor, lieutenant governor, governor, even prisoner, but those who called him friend and neighbor said his legacy will last a lifetime in South Bend.
"I said 'well, I'm confused now. I don't know what to call you now. Governor or Joe,'" said Warren Verteramo, co-owner of Rocco's Restaurant in South Bend, where Kernan was a loyal customer since he was a teenager. "He goes 'No, you call me Joe.' So, it was really something for the governor to tell you 'no you call me by Joe.'"
Warren and his wife Linda both own Rocco's Restaurant in South Bend. They said Kernan would go there to eat as a high schooler and college student and continued to do so as deputy mayor and mayor of South Bend and as lieutenant governor and governor of Indiana. They said he was always a down to Earth guy and never forgot his roots even as he advanced in his political career.
"Even as he got higher and higher, he still was Joe," Warren said.
"He was still a good man," Linda said
"Good man, and he still respected people not because he was a governor or mayor," said Warren. That's how Joe was."
Kernan lived in the Howard Park/East Bank Village neighborhood in South Bend and routinely supported causes like Alzheimer's and Dementia of Northern Indiana, a group that supports Dementia caregivers. Kernan, an Alzheimer's patient himself donated and advocated for the group often. Group members said that is where his legacy will live on.
"He just cared," said Alzheimer's and Dementia of Northern Indiana group member Tricia Mentz. "So, we're here for caregivers, and he cared for caregivers. So, it's one of those connections that we'll never lose."
Mentz said Kernan was a face and friend for all public health in the community. Others remember Kernan for the causes he supported as mayor, like education.
"He was a servant," said Cindy Streich, a former teacher in South Bend who worked extensively with Kernan. "He was there for each and every person, and what a wonderful life he lived, and hopefully, I could be like him."
Kernan was 74 years old.