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Quotes from National, State and local leaders

“Karen and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Governor Joe Kernan and we send our heartfelt condolences to his family and all those who knew and admired this truly great Hoosier. After graduating from Notre Dame, he put on the uniform of the United States as a Navy pilot and served our country in Vietnam. He was shot down and spent nearly a year as a prisoner of war. When he returned home, Joe began a successful business career and would lead South Bend with distinction in three terms as Mayor. As Lieutenant Governor and then Governor of Indiana, Joe Kernan was a steady hand of leadership at a difficult time for our state. Even thgouh our politics differed, Joe Kernan was always kind, always willing to work together for Hoosiers, and Joe Kernan was my friend. Karen and I send our deepest sympathies to Maggie and the entire Kernan family as they mourn the passing of this good man and dedicated public servant. Indiana and America will never forget or fail to honor the life of service of Governor Joe Kernan.

— Vice President Mike Pence

“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.
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.
Janet and I ask Hoosiers across our state to join us in lifting up in prayer Mrs. Kernan, their incredible family, and all whose lives he touched.”

— Indiana Governor, Eric Holcomb

“Joe Kernan’s many and noteworthy contributions to Notre Dame, our community, the state and our nation cannot be overstated. A student-athlete at the University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in government, then entered the Navy and served as aviator in Vietnam, where he demonstrated uncommon heroism when shot down and held as a prisoner of war for 11 months.

As a three-term mayor of South Bend, he set the city on an upward trajectory that continues to this day. He likewise served our state with distinction, first as lieutenant governor and then, upon the sudden passing of Gov. Frank O’Bannon, stepping up as governor.


In addition to his government service, he was a beloved civic leader who never shied away from challenges. He was always a good friend to Notre Dame, and a friend and support to me personally. We were proud to have him as an alumnus, and as an adjunct faculty member in political science.

In presenting Joe with an honorary degree in 1998, the University praised him as an ‘accomplished public servant who played a pivotal role in strengthening this University’s town-gown relations.’ He went on to deliver a superb commencement address to the graduating class.

Our prayers are with his wife, Maggie, their family and his many friends. We grieve over his passing while simultaneously recognizing a remarkable life. May he rest in peace.”

— Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President of the University of Notre Dame

“Governor Kernan’s wife, Maggie, and all of his family and friends continue to be in Maureen’s and my prayers.  Governor Kernan was a public servant to his core, from POW in Vietnam, to the Mayor’s Office, and ultimately to the Governor’s Office.  He served with absolute class and integrity.”

— Indiana Senator Mike Braun

“I have met few people I admired more or who I enjoyed more than Joe Kernan.  Funny, determined, respectful, considerate, self-deprecating, focused and passionate about making life better for others. I was a lucky man to be asked by Joe to come to South Bend when Joe was campaigning to become Mayor.  My only difficult moment was when I accepted Joe’s invitation to watch Nebraska play Notre Dame.  Then, this gentleman became a beast; if the Irish have a bigger fan, I would not want to watch them play my alma mater.  Semper Fi, my friend, and peace be with you."

— Former United States Senator, Bob Kerry

“Serving in state government with Joe Kernan in the lead was time in life well spent for building a better Indiana. After he left office, he continued to employ his energy and ingenuity to develop new ideas for local government reform under an initiative that led to a good many improvements across the state. These proposals were often referred to as “Kernan-Shepard,” but I was just the guy at the back end of the hyphen. It was a genuine gift to think about the future with Joe Kernan leading the charge.”

— Randall T. Shepard, Indiana Supreme Court Justice

“Susan and I are devastated by the passing of a true American hero and dear friend, Joe Kernan. Joe and I developed a close friendship when I was running for Secretary of State in 1986. We were likeminded governing partners throughout our careers as he was elected mayor of South Bend in 1987 and then Lieutenant Governor in 1996. The grace with which he guided Indiana through the tragic death of Gov. Frank O’Bannon in 2003 was emblematic of Joe’s steadiness under extraordinary pressure, as his fellow POWs can attest. He also made history with his first major decision as Governor, selecting my former colleague Kathy Davis to be Indiana’s first woman Lt. Governor. Like everyone touched by Joe’s boundless energy and optimism, Susan and I loved every minute we were able to spend with Joe and Maggie, whose steadfast bravery during Joe’s illness is an inspiration to all who are facing serious health challenges. Our heartfelt condolences to Maggie and the amazing Kernan family. Thank you for sharing Joe with us.”

— Former Indiana Governor and Senator, Evan Bayh

“Joe Kernan was at different times my ally, opponent, and advisor, but always a friend to me, and as far as I could tell to everyone he met. In wartime and in peace he embodied patriotism and the goodwill toward all we associate with the term “Hoosier”. He was a true leader, and we have lost him far too soon.Those among us so ready to bear malice against those with whom they differ and either so ignorant or so ungrateful that they disdain those whose sacrifices gave them the freedom to express their views should pause and consider the life and character of Joe Kernan.” 

— Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., 49th Governor of Indiana and President, Purdue University

“I am so sorry for our loss of Joe Kernan. Joe Kernan was so confident, and funny, a master of every game. Boundless energy directed to the service of others. It was natural to love, trust and follow Joe Kernan.


Joe confidently and lovingly stepped in and pulled the state together after Frank O’Bannon died suddenly in office in September 2003.  Joe decided that a woman would serve the state as Lieutenant Governor. It was historic, he was sure. He made it look natural. We see what has followed.  


I envisioned many years of Joe and Maggie traveling with friends and golfing in Ireland. That was not to be. Joe would not condone my regrets.

Joe Kernan is released. As are our memories of him. Time to listen for him and draw from our inner Joe Kernan."

— Kathy Davis, Indiana's 1st female Lt. Governor (appointed by Governor Joe Kernan)

“Joe Kernan was the most impressive and authentic gentleman I’ve ever had the honor of calling a friend. I’ve rarely known anyone who would do as much as he did for the city and the state that he loved so much. And I can tell you in all honesty, I would not be here in this wonderful South Bend region, if not for Joe Kernan. He’s made a major difference in my life, my family’s life, and surely, the lives of every citizen in the great state of Indiana. Today, is a sad day. I pray now for Maggie and Joe’s brother and sisters. May God bless Joe Kernan, one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.”

— Andrew T. Berlin, owner South Bend Cubs, Berlin Packaging and partner, Chicago Cubs

“Joe Kernan, in every role he took was a leader-be it Mayor, Lt Governor, Governor, baseball owner, friend or teammate. You never felt like you were working “for him” — always “with him.”  He was a very quick read on any issue which allowed him to mobilize his team so everyone knew their respective tasks and everyone wanted nothing more than to accomplish what was the goal. You knew you had succeeded when you saw his winning smile and heard his infectious laugh. It was also clear no matter how complicated or busy life became his most important role was as Maggie’s husband, and then as a son, brother, and uncle. You were privileged to be his friend, and everyone is better because of Joe Kernan.”

— Richard A. Nussbaum, II, friend and former South Bend City Attorney, Kernan Administration

“As Governor a few years ago, Joe and his staff were in a sprint through the halls of Indiana’s capitol building on their way to an important appointment. The whole group stopped dead in their tracks when Joe spotted a group of developmentally disabled adults (from LOGAN Center in South Bend). For the next twenty minutes, appointment be damned. Joe was making time for the most important constituents in the state — at least at that moment. Everyone was important to Joe. Barber, grocer, king. To Joe, we were all the same. And it’s why we loved him so much.”

— Lou Pierce, biographer, and friend

"It’s hard to write about Joe Kernan without sounding like you’re reciting a list of cliches. He is one of a kind. The most competitive person I’ve ever known, he expected everyone on his team to give their utmost - and he led the way by personal example. He engendered fierce loyalty among friends and supporters. When a complicated issue arose, Joe had a unique talent to identify the critical component and focus on resolving it. But he didn’t forget the little things - picking up litter on the sidewalk, taking a moment to speak with a young child, leaving a note to thank a resident for their beautiful garden.


In 1987 Joe was running to succeed Roger Parent as mayor. He had won a close primary contest and it looked like the general election would be hotly contested too. I was running for 1st District City Council. My opponent criticized my background as a conscientious objector to the Viet Nam war. Though it could have cost him votes, Joe, a decorated war veteran, spoke up in my defense (and in defense of all conscientious objectors). He truly believed in the ideals of this country, ideals that he fought for and nearly died for. His integrity and courage are hallmarks of his character.


Joe Kernan inspired me, as a Councilmember and as mayor. I am grateful for his energy, his spirit, his outrageous laugh, the sparkle in his eyes when he beat you at some game (and eventually he would!), his heart, his dedication to his family, his city and his country. He is one of a kind!"

— Steve Luecke, former South Bend Mayor

“He was an incredible person. I am grateful for the service that he gave, not only to this community as Mayor and the State of Indiana as Governor but also to this country as a member of the United States Navy and a Prisoner of War. He was at his best when he was trying to improve the lives of the people and communities around him, and so we are a better place because of Governor Joe Kernan."

— Lynn Coleman, former South Bend Police Officer and Deputy Mayor, Luecke administration

“Joe Kernan was the funniest, most competitive, most loyal person I have ever known, and one of the smartest people I have ever had the honor to work with. He made everyone around him better and feel special, regardless of circumstances. He played hard, he worked hard and he made a difference in everything he did.  Bottom line — everybody LOVED Joe!”

— Greg Downes, friend

“Joe Kernan was a wonderful human being. Always upbeat and full of energy, he was really a servant of others as Mayor, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor. I especially appreciated the role that he played in the establishment of the South Bend Center for the Homeless. He will be very much missed.”

— Rev. Edward 'Monk' Malloy, C.S.C. President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

“Joe Kernan showed us all the meaning of service, sacrifice, and leadership. We will remember with gratitude his decades of selfless service to his country and community as a Naval flight officer, prisoner of war, longtime mayor of South Bend, and lieutenant governor and governor of Indiana. Dean and I join all Hoosiers in mourning the loss of Joe Kernan and praying for his beloved wife and their entire family.”

— Jackie Walorski, 2nd District Congresswoman, Indiana

“Amidst the chaos, disappointment and deception that fills society, Joe was a refuge — a rock of integrity, compassion and courage. He dedicated his life to others by his military service, as a public servant with distinction, and a trusted friend to so many. I’ll never forget his prophetic and tireless advocacy for the homeless. Count me among the legions of folks who admired and loved Joe Kernan. He and Maggie were an amazing team, and our hearts and prayers are especially with Maggie now. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Joe and challenged by his example to serve others more purely, faithfully and abundantly.”

— Lou Nanni, Vice President for University Relations at University of Notre Dame

“Jaimi and I were profoundly sad to hear about the passing of one of our community’s finest public servants, Joe Kernan. I first got to know Joe Kernan when I was a college student at IUSB and he graciously took time from his busy schedule as Mayor of South Bend to address my History class about his heroic experiences as a Naval Flight Officer and POW during the Vietnam War. I got to know him better when as a young public servant, I sat at a South Bend bar with then Lieutenant Governor Kernan for a beer and great conversation. Then, when I became Mayor of Mishawaka, it was citizen Joe Kernan that I looked to for advice and he gave it. He simply said to love your community and that love will guide you.  

Joe was a talented man of many titles but whether he was war hero Joe, mayor Joe, governor Joe or citizen Joe, he was a great American that treated everyone with respect and served with the same friendly, good humored, quick witted passion no matter the title. What I admired most about Joe was that he possessed the highest and best qualification for his roles; love of his community. I was proud to call Mayor Joe my friend and I strive to serve in the great example that he set and I will never forget him. This world needs many more public servants like Joe Kernan.”

— Mayor Dave Wood, City of Mishawaka

“A twelve-year old boy stood in a corridor at Holy Cross Grade School in 1973 in his grammar school uniform. He took great notice when one of the sisters escorted a gentleman past the group in a pristine white officer’s uniform who looked larger than life. That twelve-year old boy was me.  And that officer was a graduate of Holy Cross Grade School back to tell his story to the students. The officer was Joe Kernan, who had just returned from a POW camp in Vietnam.  He became my hero then and there, remained my hero throughout my life, and will always be my hero. Someone who I strive to emulate each and every day and the kind of man I hope my sons can become.”

— Jim Schellinger, Indiana Secretary of Commerce

"As his city and his state knows well, to meet Joe Kernan was to befriend him. Joe had a golden smile, sharp wit, incisive mind, and effusive personality that lit up every room he ever walked into — whether it was dinner with old friends, a town hall, a ballpark, a state budget meeting, a classroom full of kids, or Rocco’s Pizza on a Friday night. 


Joe always favored service over self-interest, integrity over convenience, and grace over the smallness too often seen in today’s politics. He treated everyone with dignity and respect, and his focus on doing what was right was invariably strong and true. That’s because Joe understood the kinds of responsibilities we have to one another. It made him who he was, and it shaped how he lived and how he led. 


Joe will be in our hearts forever."

— Mary Downes, Governor Kernan's Chief of Staff

"I first met Joe Kernan in 1990 when he traveled with Frank and me to Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Joe carried with him a box from a family in South Bend, which contained a new pair of shoes, to give to their relative in need who lived in the former communist Poland. He carried that box in his luggage across several countries, including the Soviet Union, until we got to Poland and could hand deliver the shoes to the relative. His compassion and skill, along with his innate and genuine ability to bring people in to engage, comfortably, whether just in a conversation or in working together on a project, made him a leader Hoosiers trusted. That was never more apparent than when he was unexpectedly placed into the Governor's seat in September 2003. Joe Kernan was a partner in governing and leading Indiana with Frank, and most importantly the best of friend to both of us and to his beloved South Bend and Hoosier state. Our O'Bannon family heart aches for the loss of Joe, and our thoughts and prayers are with Maggie and all of the Kernan family."

— former Indiana First Lady, Judy O'Bannon Willsey

“Joe Kernan was one of the most down-to-earth and humble people in a world that is too often lacking those qualities. Beyond his tremendous public and community service, the work of he and then Chief Justice Randall Shepard on the Kernan-Shepard Commission for local government efficiency will continue to have lasting impacts.


Joe Kernan and Randall Shepard were honored as Indiana Chamber Government Leaders of the Year in 2008. Kernan, then 62 years old and owner of the South Bend Silver Hawks, was signed to a one-day contract in the spring of 2008 for an exhibition game against the parent club Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kernan said later that year: 'I ended up playing a couple of innings at second base. I struck out, but I went down swinging.' That describes the life of Joe Kernan."

— Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber of Commerce

“Indiana has lost a true statesman in Gov. Joe Kernan. Throughout his life, from his distinguished service in the U.S. Navy and his time as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton, to his dedication and service as Mayor of South Bend and as governor, Joe Kernan is the standard-bearer of service in America today. History will forever remember his dedication to Indiana and his selfless service to Hoosiers.

Linda Lawson stated, “I mourn the loss of Gov. Kernan, a selfless and to-the-core Hoosier that used his role governor to elevate all those around him—especially women—as he named Kathy Davis his lieutenant governor. My thoughts are with Maggie, Gov. Kernan’s wife, their family and many friends as we say goodbye to this fantastic Hoosier.”

— Linda Lawson, former State Representative, Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor

“Indiana has lost a true statesman in Gov. Joe Kernan. Throughout his life, from his distinguished service in the U.S. Navy and his time as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton, to his dedication and service as Mayor of South Bend and as governor, Joe Kernan is the standard-bearer of service in America today. History will forever remember his dedication to Indiana and his selfless service to Hoosiers.

Gov. Kernan served his country and state with the highest level of integrity. From his service in Vietnam, tenures as South Bend mayor and lieutenant governor and finally his term as governor of Indiana, Joe continually exemplified what it meant to be a selfless leader. Indiana is certainly a better place because of his dedicated service."

— Phil GiaQuinta, Democratic Leader, Indiana House of Representatives

“Gov. Joe Kernan dedicated his life to public service, and never wavered in his principled dedication to doing the right thing. After being shot down in Vietnam and spending eleven months as a prisoner of war, Joe could have been forgiven for feeling like he had done enough for this country. But there was no 'enough' in his DNA, and he spent the rest of his life tirelessly serving his city, this state, and a "Steph and I will have Maggie and the Kernan family in our prayers, and we know they can take comfort in the legacy of leadership that Gov. Kernan leaves behind.”

— Joe Hogsett, Mayor, Indianapolis, IN

“It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of former Gov. Joe Kernan. Joe was a true patriot who also was the shining example of a public servant. Service is what immediately comes to mind when we think of Joe: a veteran who endured the rigors and cruelty of being a prisoner of war, and a trusted official as the mayor of South Bend and both lieutenant governor and governor of our state. As lieutenant governor, he was a beloved member of our Indiana Senate family, presiding over the chamber with grace, dignity and always with that famous twinkle in his eye.

Gov. Kernan was a true American hero who touched the lives of so many, in the Hoosier state and beyond. Joe lived his life with humility and was always ready to go to bat for what was right. We truly lost one of our best champions today.

Joe will always have a fond place in our hearts and in the halls of Hoosier history. Our most heartfelt sympathies go out to Maggie and all who are so proud and grateful to have known Joe Kernan. Today, as we remember his legacy, we ask that all Hoosiers keep Mrs. Kernan and the whole family in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

— Statement by Indiana Democrats, Indiana House of Representatives

“Indiana has lost a true statesman in Gov. Joe Kernan. Throughout his life, from his distinguished service in the U.S. Navy and his time as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton, to his dedication and service as Mayor of South Bend and as governor, Joe Kernan is the standard-bearer of service in America today. History will forever remember his dedication to Indiana and his selfless service to Hoosiers.”

— Dr. Woody Myers, Democratic nominee for Governor

“I join our entire state, and particularly the residents of South Bend, in mourning the loss of former Gov. Joe Kernan — a true patriot, proud Hoosier, and lifelong public servant. I also send my deepest condolences to his wife Maggie and his many loved ones. At a young age, Gov. Kernan answered America’s call and served our country honorably and bravely during the Vietnam War, setting a standard of service and courage that he maintained throughout his life. When former Gov. Frank O’Bannon, whom he served under as lieutenant governor, passed away unexpectedly, he didn’t hesitate to once again boldly answer the call to serve by assuming the role of the 48th governor of the State of Indiana. In this role, he worked tirelessly to improve the lives of all Hoosiers, a commitment he held throughout his entire life. I hope every Hoosier will pledge to carry on his amazing legacy and live by his timeless example."

— Andre Carson, Indiana Congressman

“I had the privilege of working with former governor and Lt. Gov.Kernan on many issues during his years of service, and joined him in representing our state in Europe and South America. There was no finer gentlemen in politics. He was always upbeat and always had the best interest of Hoosiers in his heart. His service as a U.S. aviator, P.O.W., mayor, lieutenant governor and governor will be long remembered and appreciated. Our hearts go out to Maggie and Joe’s family.”

— Brian Bosma, former Indiana Speaker of the House of Representatives

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