Roger Kerns

roger kerns

Roger Kerns died Thursday, August 29th in Sanford Health Palliative Care Unit.  He was born April 16, 1933, in Brookings, SD.  He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from South Dakota State University and a doctorate from the University of South Dakota.

He was founder of Special Olympics in South Dakota in 1968.  He also started Camp Happiness on the banks of the Missouri River in Vermillion, SD for exceptional children which provided recreation, fun and happiness for those children who found it hard to fit in in other camping situations.  He moved his family to Fargo and NDSU in 1971.  In 1972, he enlisted the help of some of his students at the college and organized the first Special Olympics in North Dakota.  And in all of those years, he was a member of the Army National Guard in South Dakota obtaining the rank of colonel.

He held many positions at NDSU over the years.  He was a full professor of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department and was elected president of the Central District of the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.  He was also a director of the Office of Student Academic Affairs, Registrar, and Dean of the College of University Studies.  He served as executive dean of the NDSU-Bottineau Branch for one year.

He was involved in many community activities.  He is a past chair of the Cass-Clay American Red Cross; Charter President and member of the Fargo Rough Rider Kiwanis; Chair, Vocational Training Center Board of Directors; Member and past chair of the Fargo School Board; Fargo AirSho Board; Air Museum Board of Directors; Fargo School District Foundation; Southeast Human Services Board; Civil Air Patrol; and IRB of Pracs Institute.

He was inducted in the Special Olympics North Dakota Hall of Fame in 2002, received the Robert Feder Humanitarian Award in 2005, and the Distinguished Service Award from the Vocational Training Center in 2006.

Roger is survived by his wife Betty, children Laura (Rod) Jacobs, Steve (Stacey) and 4 grandchildren Kris and David Jacobs and Jessica and Sarah Kerns.

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to Special Olympics North Dakota or NDSU Development Foundation.

View current weather.

Memories Timeline


  1. Fargo ND
    Hello Betty and family:

    I was saddened to learn of Roger’s passing. As one of the many students who Roger oversaw over the years in his capacity as Dean of the College of University Studies at ND
    SU, I always respected your husband and father.

    He truly cared for ND
    SU as well as his community. Roger always put people first with a deep and admiring passion which unfortunately is sorely missing in large part in today’s society.

    Whenever the call went out, Roger was ready to respond. The people of Fargo will reember his service on the School Board. The people of North Dakota
    will remember him not only for his work at ND
    SU, but also when he answered the call to serve as the interim head of ND
    SU-Bottineau (now Dakota College at Bottineau, aligned with Minot State University).

    Our community and state have lost a true leader in Roger. He will be missed.

    Betty and Family, my wife Debbie and I extend to you our sincerest sympathies over Roger’s passing and we pray that God will comfort you folks during this time of grief and sadness.

    Psalm 30:5 from the English Standard Version tells us: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

  2. West Fargo ND
    Roger had an impact on thousands of lives and will be missed by many!
    Our hearts and prayers go out to you at this time of loss.

  3. When Roger left the Fargo School Board in 2001 I gave his “tribute”. He was a kind and generous man and many of the issues he was concerned about continue to be on the front burner. I wanted to share those comments.

    Roger Kerns
    Fargo Board of Education 1995-2001
    Roger, from the day you walked into this room, you have been the member with the biggest heart. However the fact that you wear it on your sleeve makes you a lousy poker player. Your compassion is for ALL children, not just the lucky ones who call you grandpa. Before you began your first term on the Board, you saw to it that the Special Olympics Program became available to North Dakota
    students. This has become a bigger event each passing year and the smiling faces of the audience and the participants can thank you.

    During your two terms on the Fargo Board of Education, no matter the subject, you have made sure that the improvements towards education are driven by data. More than once you have shown up at a meeting with a binder full of information. You have found web sites and graphs that the most dedicated researcher might have missed.

    Some of the issues you have lent your time and expertise to have included: enforcing the immunization laws throughout the school district, improving student attendance initiating the Academic All Stars recognition in partnership with the Forum speaking out for senior citizens who are challenged by rising taxes and making sure that students who may not have the financial means were not shortchanged by our public school system. You have never been afraid to speak your mind on any issue, no matter how unpopular the subject. Your passion is unmatched and admired by this board and community. Even those who have been on the other side of a debate with you know that you are driven by the passion to make things better for our Fargo students.
    Some of our highlights over the last six years –
    Technology-from board members who are now able to access information to an appropriate use policy for students.
    Gym advertising—-or more correctly the lack thereof
    Drug sniffing dogs and gang prevention activities
    Long debates over three possible elementary school sites,
    bus trips with the media to spots on the southside that are now apartments, and some that are still fields.
    The School District Logo-“Where the Future Unfolds”
    Nancy Jordheim and Chuck DeRemer are hired to fill their current positions
    Safe Schools/ Safe Communities
    Two words—Coca Cola
    We purchase and renovate the Eagles Club and open it in the fall of 1997 as a Kindergarten Center
    One of our favorite Roger reports- the “Catch Um Camera” that was put onto school buses
    The memorable winter of 1996-97 when school was cancelled 10 times because of storms To say nothing of the spring of ’97 when we had to build a dike around Centennial and our schools became emergency shelters
    Public meetings to discuss the deteriorating condition of South and North High and the assorted issues surrounding the overcrowding at South…which lead us to the remodeling and addition at South, followed by the current remodeling at Ben Franklin.
    We committed to partnership with the Skills and Technology Training Center
    Accepted Vern’s retirement and after a national search– found David
    Mountain Dew
    Appointed a Citizens Advisory Committee on school boundaries and school organizational plans
    Held public meetings regarding the various color coded plans for reconfiguration and potential boundary changes
    Diet Coke
    We attended many hearing s and public forums –listening to many views before decisions were made.
    Have I mentioned the caffeinated beverage discussion?
    Built and Opened Bennett Elementary School
    Developed a strategic plan and found partners to pay for the publishing of Freeze Frame
    Hired a foundation director
    Determined that Trollwood would be shared with Moorhead

    Roger, I am sure there are more newsworthy issues we covered these last six years, but I am afraid that your watch will start beeping before I am done. These have been some very eventful years. We are better, as a Board and as Individuals because you were here among us. Because of you, we will always HEAR each other better because you insisted that if we had microphones both the board and the public would be able to listen to what we were saying. You have been a kind, passionate, and dedicated board member. The children of Fargo have been lucky to have had you on board.
    Buddy and Betty had better take good care of you for us. On behalf of the Board and the Citizens of Fargo, Thank you.

  4. Guthrie MN
    To the family of a man who gave so much to others we think of you as you honor his life. Cherish his life and the joy he brought to so many.

  5. Roger was a great mentor and friend a model of humble leadership. I fondly recall his eager willingness to participate in CAP missions and exercises. Whether flying or driving all over North Dakota
    , in all kinds of weather, he was always enthusiastic and insightful. I will miss him.

  6. My deepest sympathy goes out to you and your family. Thinking of you during this difficult time. He is now with the angels watching over you. Take care!!!
    Tanya Livdahl

  7. Fargo Betty, Laura and family- I was very saddened to hear about Roger. He accomplished more in his life time than most people! I know he will be greatly missed. My love to all of you!

  8. Fargo ND
    Betty — I was so sorry to hear of Roger’s death. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family in this time.

  9. Moorhead MN
    In preparing, for the 1st home game of the season, I was thinking about Mr. Kerns and I was looking forward to seeing him at all of the home games. Saturday will not be the same without Mr. Kerns sitting in his front row seat. Please believe & have faith that he is happy, healthy & watching over each of you until you can be together once again. My thoughts & prayers are with all of you.

    Diane Rix
    Event Manager

  10. Shakopee MN
    Dear Kern’s family !

    I was a student at ND
    SU ( I grew up in Kindred) and Roger was one of first people I met of the faculty at ND
    SU! He guided me though my ND
    SU days and always was a positive role model. I have fond memories of seeing Roger on campus and he always was always interested in my college days and would always giving me courage and give advice to get through the rough classes like Math and Science that I didn’t like. After graduation in 1986 I would often visit ND
    SU always looking for Roger.

    What a great man Roger was and I thank you for sharing him with the ND
    SU Family ! WOW ! Roger always glowed and loved talking about his family.

    Thinking of you in this time of your loss.

    Jean Lahren Washa
    Class of 1986

  11. Fargo ND
    Roger hired me at ND
    SU 38 years ago. He was a wonderful mentor and boss. He helped me to make Fargo my home and to love all the good things about the Fargo community. Roger’s granddaughter has stopped by office periodically to let me know about Roger. My heart was saddened when I learned that he had a serious fall. He was a very influential faculty member at ND
    SU and he will be missed.

  12. Fargo ND
    Roger was a role model of mine ever since we met through Rough Rider Kiwanis. I was always amazed at his accomplishments but even more so of him as a person. He was a thoughtful, caring man who went out of his way to help others.
    We will miss you Roger, thank you for all of your support and for being our friend.

  13. Roger was a wonderful man. Roger was one of my father’s best friends and when my dad passed away, Roger stepped in to help. It was always a pleasure to see Roger because he was such a positive person. His energy was undeniable.

    It’s been 24 years since my dad passed, but I know he has been waiting for Roger so they could play another game of racket ball!

  14. Roger Kerns was a remarkable man and outstanding public servant.

    At ND
    SU, Roger had a reputation of getting things done. He was the Dean of Univsersity Studies but also wore several other hats. Whenever there was a problem academic or administrative, roger would get the “fix it” assignment.

    He served on the Fargo School Board for three terms and was its president under whom the school physical plan was expanded to build a new high school (Davies) and a new grade school (Bennet) on the south side . During his tenure major renovation were done to nearly all school, especially South and North Hiogh Schools. He was champion of positive change and a visionary.

    He was also very active in civic groups and was the Chrter President of the Rough Rider Kiwanis Club among many organizations he belonged to.

    Roger made his mark on Fargo and was one of those leaders who put “the Go in Fargo”. His legacy scores very high and is unmatchable.

    Mort Mazaheri
    NDSU Professor Emeritus
    Former Fargo City Commissioner
    Casa Grande, AZ

  15. Fargo ND
    With much sympathy from th faculty, staff and students of the College of Human Development and Education at ND

  16. The world was blessed to have a person like roger lead the causes that he did and make the world a better place. It was an honor to know this humble giving man who accomplished so much . Thank you Betty for sharing him with all of us.

Sign the Guestbook, Light a Candle

Accessibility Tools