A close look at Joe Kernan from Terry McFadden

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 7:23 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -To most people, Joe Kernan was a politician.

For 16 News Now anchor Terry McFadden and his family, Kernan was much more than that. And so his passing was personal.

Terry knew Joe long before this picture was taken.

Long before he was mayor, Lt. Governor, and Governor.

When Terry was fifteen, Joe and Maggie Kernan bought the home across the alley from his family's home in Harter Heights neighborhood on South Bend's Northeast side.

"Our cars were always parked in the alley next to each other, all our cars, and he would pull in and he didn't want us to call him Mr. and Mrs. Kernan. He said, 'I'm Joe, and that's Maggie.' And so I would always say when I was coming home from class, I'd see him and say, 'Hey, Joe!' and he would say 'Hey, Mo!'. And he was always energetic about it," said Kernan's former neighbor Maureen McFadden.

Perhaps he didn't want the McFadden kids calling him mister because Kernan always exuded a youthful enthusiasm...something the McFaddens learned early on.

"We had five rambunctious kids in the family and we had the same swimming pools, right across the alleys from each other. And so it wasn't odd on a Friday or Saturday night that Joe would have his cronies from South Bend over for a pool party and we would have all our teenage friends for a pool party and sometimes the pool party was a dueling pool party and dad would come out and tell us to be quiet and it was Joe and Maggie and their friends making most of the noise," Maureen says.

Things quieted down once Kernan got involved in politics, and the McFaddens were proud of the fact that their friend and neighbor, the nice guy across the alley, was South Bend's mayor.

After Kernan became mayor he stayed in his Harter Heights home and he did something unheard of these days--he didn't have an unlisted phone number. So, he would take calls from constituents literally seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Former Notre Dame Basketball coach Digger Phelps, a Harter Heights resident for nearly 50 years, lived a block from Kernan.

"He was that way. He was just never high maintenance so to speak. He was just one of the guys like I said, but more importantly, he always put himself in a position to say, 'what can I do to make a difference, to make it better, not just four our neighborhood, but for every neighborhood in the South Bend community," Phelps said.

Joe and Maggie Kernan moved out of Harter Heights about 10 years ago and bought a condo in the East Bank neighborhood.

They wanted to be part of the city's downtown renaissance.

You see, Joe Kernan was at home, no matter where he lived in South Bend.

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