Joseph Kernan, the 48th Governor of the State of Indiana, died Wednesday morning following a long illness.
He is survived by his wife, Maggie, and seven siblings.
Kernan, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, began his career as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy. He and his co-pilot were shot down while on a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam in 1972. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, including at the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison.
Kernan returned home in 1974 to begin a career in business. His path led him to the city government, where he served three consecutive terms as Mayor of the City of South Bend.
In 1996, he was asked by Frank O’Bannon to join him as candidate for Lt. Governor. O’Bannon and Kernan were elected in November of that year and won reelection in 2000.
In 2003, Kernan became governor upon O’Bannon’s death. He was sworn in as the state’s 48th governor. He made history by appointing Kathy Davis as Indiana’s first female Lt. Governor.
Kernan retired from politics in 2005 and remained busy in his hometown of South Bend. He worked as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Notre Dame and in his own consulting firm.
“Indiana mourns the loss of Joe Kernan, a bone fide American hero, decorated Navy officer, and truly selfless statesman who always placed the interests of his fellow Hoosiers first,” said Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.
“Distinguished isn’t a strong enough word to describe him. Without regard for personal cost, Joe Kernan devoted every ounce of his life, time and again, to upholding the oath he took, and serving the country and state he loved.
Undeterred after being shot down and tortured in Vietnam, he returned and led his beloved City of South Bend as mayor for three terms, and our state as our 47th lieutenant governor. When duty called him to step into a role he didn’t seek, he served as our 48th governor.
Through his decades of servant leadership and sacrifice, Joe Kernan modeled all the best of what it means to be a Hoosier and his legacy will continue to live on in each of us whom he inspired.”
Funeral arrangements are being made by Welsheimer’s Funeral Home in South Bend. Memorial contributions may be made to the Veterans Fund at the University of Notre Dame.
Please direct your gift to support scholarships and fellowships for military-connected students to giving.nd.edu, by phone (574) 631-5150, or by mail: University of Notre Dame, Department of Development, 1100 Grace Hall, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556.