Russell Lee Kern was born February 8,1922 on Famous Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri, the third son of George Gottlieb Kern, a chauffeur, and Louise Wilhelmina Bartelt. He spent most of his childhood on a farm close to Dixon, Missouri, next to his German grandparents. He loved to run track and won 1st place in the mile race at a four state O-AR-KA-MO meet even after having to run an extra lap. He won a Missouri state championship, running it in 4 minutes 35 seconds before the 4-minute mile was broken.
He joined the Navy and served four years as a pharmacist mate or medic aboard a troop transport ship, the U.S.N. Matsonia. He recovered patients from all but three battles fought in the Pacific, criss-crossing the ocean eighteen times usually unaccompanied throughout the war, outrunning a Japanese submarine and evading other warships. During a stop in Seattle, Washington, he met Fay Buchmiller at a Gold & Green Ball. He told his shipmates that night after his liberty that he had met the girl he would like to marry. They were married on Valentine’s Day 1947 in the Idaho Falls Temple, after he became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They had more than fifty wonderful years together when Fay died on August 26, 1997. They were both battling colon cancer at the time.
Many years later while working at the Salt Lake Family History Center, he met Afton Jensen from Napa, California. They were married on St. Patrick’s Day 2007 in the Seventy’s Hall in Nauvoo, Illinois. They had a very happy, blessed marriage and never lacked for adventures. They both supervised a girl’s camp one summer, zip lining and leading the pack. Afton died on February 26, 2010.
After some years in Provo, in 2014, Russ moved to an independent living center apartment--the Wentworth at Coventry in Cottonwood Heights, UT. After a year of covid lockdowns, he had enough of the complications from quarantines and moved to live with his daughter, Cheryl, in Shawnee, Kansas in September 2020. He relished having hot meals again.
Russell graduated from BYU and attended the University of Utah to get a certificate in social work but transitioned after a year to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri to work on a master’s degree in medical social work. He eventually got a job with the VA and moved to Livermore, California in 1951. There were many career moves after that especially as he began to work for the state of California in Vocational Rehabilitation. He and Fay lived in Oakland, San Lorenzo, Campbell, Daly City, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Bakersfield. He liked helping people and helped many disabled clients set goals and transform their lives to accomplish amazing things. As a family we heard about many of their challenges such as the man who fell into a cement mixer, another who was baled into a bale of hay, the woman who learned to type with her toes. One of his people received the handicapped person of the year award and flew to Washington D.C. to meet the president. At his retirement in 1977, he was recognized as the top administrator in Voc Rehab in the state. Everywhere we lived, he blessed the lives of people around him. Service, loyalty and commitment were some of his defining qualities.
He served several times as an elder’s quorum president, Bishop or bishopric member throughout his lifetime and always enjoyed being a ward or home teacher. He was happy to be ordained a Seventy, called to serve a stake mission for two years in the San Jose Stake. He and Fay both served in the Texas Fort Worth Mission in 1991. Russell felt he was “slow of speech.” Teaching was not easy for him, but in his 90’s, he still accepted a call to teach an adult gospel doctrine class. It was challenging for him, but he did his best, preparing endlessly for each lesson. His ward church leader said that he provided an example to the other seniors that life was not over, and they could and should contribute for the good of the group.
In 1977 he retired and moved to a 180-acre farm by Purdy, Missouri out of Monett. The mayor asked Fay and Russ to share one thing that defined their lives. While they were struggling to respond, he said, “You are the only family I know with seven children who have all gone to college, even when some of your children are disabled.” Not long-ago Russ said, “I have a talented family, and it pleases me that they try to do good wherever they are.”
Russell died peacefully on Thursday, September 23, 2021, at 2:50 p.m. struggling from the aftereffects of a rectal fistula in the Kansas City Hospice House. His family gathered to be with him in his final days. He is survived by Cheryl (Carl) Wouden in Shawnee, KS; Gary Kern in Provo, UT; Douglas Kern in Provo, UT; Janene (Monte) Priebe in Cumming, GA; Maralee (Ted) Sleight in Georgetown, ID; Bartel (Emily Crizaldo) Kern in Sandy, UT; Kristen (David) Marble in Gallatin, Missouri; 25 grandchildren and 38 great grandchildren with another on the way. He is also survived by his five stepchildren and their families: Keith (Nan) Jensen in Ohio; Corinne (Eric) Nelson in Maryland; Lynette (Rick) Jones in Mexico; Janeen (Doug) Kelley in Washington; Mike Jensen in California; 21 grandchildren and 32 great grandchildren.
He will be buried next to Fay in the Memorial Estates Cemetery at 6500 S. Redwood Road, West Jordan, Utah. The funeral will be held at 3455 East Bengal Blvd., Cottonwood Heights, Utah 84121 on October 9th at 1:00 p.m. Viewings will be held on October 8th from 7-9 p.m. at the Memorial Redwood Funeral Home at 6500 South Redwood Road in West Jordan and at noon on October 9th at the church on Bengal Boulevard. (Addresses listed above.)
As a World War II Navy veteran, Russell was always interested in veteran affairs and helping the disabled. Charitable donations may be made to Wounded Warriors in his name.
He wrote his autobiography, including many pictures, My 100 Years on Earth which is soon to be published on Amazon. During his lifetime, much changed. He listened to Dizzy Dean in one of the first radio broadcasts of a baseball game. Tuned into his crystal set for news and country music from Nashville. One of his first assigned patients was one of the first soldiers to receive penicillin, and Russell was asked to monitor the side effects. Electricity and indoor plumbing came to his Missouri home after 1947. He was very familiar with a party-line telephone.
Russell lived a long and productive life. He tried hard to be a man of kindness, integrity, and devotion to duty so left behind a meaningful legacy for all who knew him. He was always courteous and respectful toward others, always acted like a gentleman. The gospel of Jesus Christ, family and the fate of this nation’s constitution were his pre-eminent priorities--God, family, country.
For those unable to attend the services, Memorial Mortuaries and Cemeteries are offering a livestreaming of the funeral service on Zoom. Please contact an immediate family member for instructions on how to join during the service.