Former South Bend Deputy Mayor Jack Reed passes away at 88

Published: Apr. 16, 2023 at 7:05 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The South Bend Community remembers longtime community leader and trailblazer Jack Reed, who died on Saturday.

Ernest Jack Reed, known to all as “Jack,” passed away on Saturday at age 88. Reed served as Deputy Mayor of the City of South Bend and was the first African American Riding Chief on the South Bend Fire Department.

Reed worked for the City of South Bend for 47 years, either at the Fire Department or the Mayor’s Office. He was described as a “model civil servant” and the embodiment of a servant leader, but he was better known for his big smile and generous nature.

He was a friend and mentor to many, including former Fire Chiefs Luther Taylor and Howard Buchanon, as well as current Fire Chief Carl Buchanon.

Former South Bend Fire Chief Howard Buchanon, who now serves as the Chief Safety and Training Officer for South Bend Transpo, tells 16 News Now what he remembers the most of his mentor.

“Just his fun, his humor, his dedication of wanting to help everybody; anything he could do to help out in his neighborhood,” says Howard Buchanon, Former Chief for the South Bend Fire Department. “He would get a snowblower and blow everybody’s snow.”

Buchanon recalls his formative years at the fire department and how Reed would go above and beyond to lend a helping hand.

“I used to go in on my off days, and Jack would help me study; hydraulics, friction loss, all of that, so I could get a better understanding of the job,” Buchanon said.

According to Buchanon, Reed had wanted to join the Indiana State Police upon graduation from Riley High School, but the State Police were not hiring African American troopers at that time. Instead, Reed focused on becoming a firefighter and was appointed to South Bend Fire Department in 1960. In 1976, Reed was appointed by Mayor Peter Nemeth as South Bend’s first African American Riding Chief and later as its first Riding Chief.

“Jack always wanted to stay under the radar,” Buchanon said. “He did a lot of good things for a lot of people, but as far as any recognition for it, he never wanted it. He was always kind of lowkey on pretty much everything.”

In 1988, Mayor Joe Kernan asked him to join his office as a mayoral assistant, and he rose to the post of Deputy Mayor under Mayor Steve Luecke.

“When he went up to the mayor’s office and started working, and then he was really involved, helping all over the place,” Buchanon said. “Helping people that had problems of any kind; he would take the extra step to ensure everybody was okay.”

Following his retirement from the City in 2007, he continued to serve on numerous boards and committees, including South Bend Heritage Foundation, REAL Services, and the Disabilities Rights Commission.

“He was quick to help the elderly; his heart was really with them when he got connected with REAL Services,” Buchanon said. “He enjoyed going out and helping people in any way he could.”

In 2008, he was named to the South Bend Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

“I’m thankful for everything he taught me,” Buchanon said. “He will be missed very, very much. He was a good, old dude, all the way around, just a nice person. He was my mentor, my buddy, like a dad at times. If I had a void, he’d be there to make things work. Just a good buddy. Oh man, there’s just so many good times we had together.”

Mayor James Mueller issued a statement on Jack Reed’s Passing:

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Jack Reed, a dedicated public servant and pillar in our community. During his decades of service as a firefighter and in the Mayor’s office, Jack made countless contributions to South Bend. As the first African American riding chief, he blazed the trail for others to follow. I join the community in mourning this great loss.”

St. Joseph County Council President Rafael Morton issued a statement on his Uncle Jack’s passing:

Funeral arrangements for Reed are not known at this time.

Correction: Reed was the first African American Riding Chief for South Bend Fire.

The story initially stated that he was the first African American Battalion Chief.