Karl Robert Kern
Ames - Karl Robert Kern, 96, of Ames, IA, passed away peacefully on September 2 at Green Hills Retirement Center.
A 31-year member of the Iowa State University faculty, under the name K. Robert, he came to Ames with his wife (deceased), Verna Lathrop Kern, native of Woodstock, IL, in March 1950 as a graduate assistant in the Extension Information Service. He joined that faculty in 1952, and he later chaired the department for 17 years.
Bob, as his friends knew him, also served four years as secretary and one year as chairman of the ISU Faculty Council, a principal advisory group to then-President W. Robert Parks, as well as serving as a member of the University Lectures Committee.
Bob was a member of the ISU Graduate College, retiring early (age 56) as Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication.
His other degree attainments were B.S., University of Illinois, followed by his work as a county extension agent (Decatur, IL) before coming to Iowa, and Ph.D, University of Wisconsin.
Bob was born on New Year's Eve 1923 at Pittsfield, IL, third of three sons who lived to maturity—a younger sister, Mary Josephine, and brother, Walter, died in infancy. His parents were Karl S. and Pearl J. (Thomas) Kern. The two older brothers, Ralph and Fred lived to their high 80s, leaving between them Bob's one niece and six nephews. The death of Ralph's wife, Laverne (Hedrick), in 2007 ended 150 years of an unbroken line of the Kern family in Pittsfield, starting with the arrival of immigrant George Frederick Kern in 1857.
After seven years in Prairie School (in a one-room red-brick schoolhouse), Bob—as had his brothers, attended Pittsfield Community High School, graduating in 1941 as salutatorian of his class (and receiving his diploma from the hand of his father, then president of the school board).
The three sons were born in Pittsfield between 1919 and 1923. In 1927, the family bought a farm three miles southeast of Pittsfield on the Big Four Trail that led from Pittsfield to the village of Time. His father, a shrewd early adopter of the emerging technologies, paid for the farm in 10 years, despite the Great Depression that diminished the farm value by two-thirds—but not the mortgage.
Bob went to the University of Illinois on an agricultural scholarship, interrupting that career in 1944 to enter army service in World War II. Trained as an infantry replacement, Bob joined the 79th Infantry Division in Europe after it had lost a battalion in the little-known Bulge that occurred in Alsace-Lorraine at the same time as that in Belgium. With some action in two European campaigns, the culmination was the final crossing of the Rhine River at Dusseldorf and clearing the Ruhr Valley east to Essen to the Ruhr River. Then the division went into the Army of Occupation.
His platoon leader, having seen his writing as censor of Bob's battlefield letters, commissioned him to write the lieutenant's recommendations for medals for men in the platoon. That work caught the eye of the company commander, who put Bob to work on recommendations throughout the company. The division's Adjutant General, who processed the awards, had Bob called up for special duty as a writer of citations for the 79th Infantry Division, where he wrote about 3,000.
When the division was deactivated in Europe, Bob volunteered to join the Third U.S. Army (General Patton, commander) as a clerk—again a citations writer and later an administrative non-commissioned officer.
In his 23 months of service, Bob earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge, two Bronze stars, Army Commendation Ribbon plus Good Conduct and Victory Medals, and battle stars for two European campaigns.
Discharged from military service in the summer of 1946, Bob returned to the University of Illinois. Two months later, he met and began a 67-year relationship with Verna L. Lathrop, Woodstock, IL—including almost 65 years of marriage. For most of her 20 years in ISU's Women's Physical Education, Verna was the lead academic adviser in the department, retiring in 1982. She died in 2013 after surviving five cancers.
Three children were born to Verna and Bob: Martha, who died in infancy; Karl Robert II, who lives in Princeton, MN with wife Ann—granddaughter Frances lives in Rockville, MD with husband Kyle Wellman; Barbara Louise Carlson (David), lives in Boise, ID, as does one granddaughter, Stephanie, while Jennifer (Sam) Govey and great-granddaughter Cecily and great grandson Roscoe, who lives outside London, U.K.
While on leave from Iowa State, Bob developed the information office for the international center, ICRISAT, in India. After retirement from ISU, he served a year as editor, Center for Improvement of Wheat and Corn, Mexico--CIMMYT (made famous by Iowan Norman Borlaug), and three years as communication officer at the International Service to National Agricultural Research Systems, The Netherlands.
He took a second retirement in 1984 and devoted the next 18 years to consulting on communication related to agriculture and the environment. Missions during these years had him working from a few weeks to many months in 42 countries. Thirteen of those missions were to the Near East (Jordan and Egypt); others took him to 15 Pacific islands, as well as countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and to Australia and New Zealand. He recounted those travels in a book, At Work in a Wider World, printed and bound privately for family and a few international colleagues.
Upon retirement, Bob had input all his letters home from his World War II experience, printing and binding a copy for each child. Later, he wrote his autobiography, Four Score and More, and after Verna's death wrote a biography of her life, Exceeding Expectations, Hallmark of the Well-Lived Years of Verna Lathrop Kern. The latter two volumes were published by Xlibris and are available through Amazon.
Bob continued writing, most in the format of historical memoir—his recall of events and activities. Many dealt with his professional society, American Association of Agricultural College Editors, in which he held all offices and was president in 1965-66. He received all the association's awards, twice getting the outstanding member plaque.
Bob and Verna were founding members of the Green Hills Retirement Community at Ames, moving into a townhouse in July 1986, then to an apartment in 2012. Bob lived on to become the longest living resident of the community. He wrote a "historical memoir" for the 25th anniversary of Green Hills. And he added a 5-year update for its 30th.
Inurnment of his ashes will be in a plot shared with Verna in the Iowa State University cemetery in Ames. Due to the Covid-19 situation, no memorial events are scheduled at this time.
Published in Ames Tribune from Sep. 5 to Sep. 6, 2020.