Like many in the Churches of God, General Conference, I was familiar with Dick Kern’s name from seeing his book about John Winebrenner, but never met him in person. My first direct interaction with him was in the mid-90’s when I was his student at the University of Findlay in a course he co-taught with several other instructors. Since becoming President of Winebrenner, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with him on many occasions whether by phone or at a local Rotary meeting. He always was a voice of encouragement to me in my current role and a strong supporter of Winebrenner Seminary.
Dr. Kern served as the second President of Winebrenner (you can see the full list by clicking here) from 1963 – 1970. While those who knew him in his latter years may raise some questions about his theological commitments, today we can remember and pray for the family of a man who is a vital part of the development of Winebrenner Theological Seminary. During my last conversation with him we fell into a discussion about his book on Winebrenner. He shared that he believed that his text served a purpose for a few decades but that it is time for someone new to retell the story of John Winebrenner to a new generation. I believe he would be very pleased if part of his legacy is to inspire someone to tell John Winebrenner’s story for the 21st century Church.
The following are excerpts from his obituary
Dr. Gilbert Richard (Dick) Kern Jr., 89, died peacefully at home Monday, January 3, after a short illness. He was surrounded by family at his passing. Born December 5, 1932, to Gilbert Richard Sr., and Gertrude (Dykstra) Kern in Roseville, Michigan, and attended Royal Oak High School before traveling to India and attending Mt. Hermon School, followed by a year at St. Joseph’s College, both in Darjeeling. When he returned to the United States, he attended Findlay College, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1954, then a Bachelor of Divinity from Winebrenner Theological Seminary in 1958. He would later receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Winebrenner in 1981. After college, he served Zion Church in Henry County as a minister ordained through the Churches of God. He taught the Friendship Adult Sunday School Class at the College First Church of God for more than 35 years.
Kern joined the faculty of Winebrenner in 1960, becoming president of that institution in 1963 and serving until 1970. After completing his doctoral work at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Kern earned his Ph.D. August of 1968. He was proud to call himself a Maroon.
Following his tenure at Winebrenner, Dr. Kern joined the faculty of Findlay College — later the University of Findlay — as a history professor and was named Professor Emeritus on his retirement in 1998. The University of Findlay Board of Trustees conferred on him a Golden Diploma in 2004, and the Loyalty Society presented him with a Lifetime Loyalty Award in 2014.
Dr. Kern’s doctoral dissertation was published as a book, John Winebrenner: 19th Century Reformer. He also authored numerous other works, including the definitive history of the University of Findlay, Findlay College, the First Hundred Years. The latter book garnered him the Outstanding Local History Award from the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums in 1986, and the University of Findlay named him Distinguished Alumnus of Findlay College in April 1989 for his work.
Dr. Kern was also actively engaged in efforts to create a more just and humane world. In the 1960s, he often participated in anti-war marches in Washington, DC, and took an active role in the national Civil Rights movement. In 1964, he participated in Freedom Summer by traveling to Mississippi to register disenfranchised voters, he supported an integrated church congregation in Oklahoma and, in 1968, he served as Chairman of the Findlay Commission on Human Relations — also known as Operation Good Neighbor — an anti-racism organization.
A celebration of Dr. Kern’s life will be held at a future, yet to be determined, date.
You can read his full obituary by clicking here.