Former TV anchor now a Geezer


POSTED: Monday, October 05, 2009

Some people age gracefully while others do not. The difference might lie in bringing a little more humor into our lives. For a dozen years this is exactly what John Kernell has been doing, sharing jokes, pictures and comics with a wide audience on his Web site the Geezer Brigade, dedicated to the over-55 crowd. He describes the site as “;The Internet's Oldest Humor Organization for Clever Old People.”; Simply put, the Geezer Brigade celebrates the aging process rather than bemoans it.

The Geezer Brigade is not just for male geezers. Geezerettes are welcome, too. In fact, legendary comedian Phyllis Diller was the first honorary comedian in residence. Kernell's Geezer Brigade has been recognized by Dear Abby, the AARP Bulletin and major newspaper outlets in Detroit, San Diego and Charlotte .

Kernell is one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet, always ready to share his tales of hitchhiking from New York City to Honolulu, a stint working as a sheepherder in Montana, covering the news on radio for J. Akuhead Pupule, working for Charley's Taxi and being a mayoral spokesman, not necessarily in that order.

Kernell grew up an Army brat, living primarily in New York state, where he went on to major in English, speech and drama at Cornell University. Kernell's first broadcasting experience was in radio at WVBR, Cornell's station, and WHCU in Ithaca, N.Y., where he reported the news.

In 1961, Kernell was working as an editor for McGraw-Hill in New York and decided he wanted to venture to Hawaii, so he began hitchhiking, ending up with stops in Montana and later selling ads for the San Francisco Examiner. When he arrived in the islands, he worked as a cabdriver for Charley's Taxi until landing a job at KGU radio alongside Aku and reported the evening news with Dick Dressel.

He moved to television news in 1963, replacing Cecil Seavey as news anchor at KONA, now KHON, where he anchored the nightly 15-minute “;Matson News”; for the station.

“;My partner was Norm Reyes. He was good folks and hell of a good guy, very dedicated. I can still hear his voice in my ear when his name is mentioned,”; Kernell said. “;Those were the real early days, and at first I just stood in front of a podium and read the revised wire copy as if I were still on the radio.”;

Kernell later became general manager of the Hawaii Civic Light Opera and a radio-TV director with W.S. Myers advertising. He went on to write, produce and provide narration for former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi's campaign commercials.

AS MAYOR, elected in 1968, Fasi appointed Kernell director of the Office of Information and Complaints.

“;I liked Frank, so well spoken, smooth and smart. My years with him were rich and fascinating,”; Kernell said.

KGMB radio and TV owner Cec Heftel hired Kernell in 1970 to be director of community affairs for the station.

“;I wrote and occasionally read KGMB's editorials, did license renewals, including those for radio stations he (Heftel) bought in Pittsburgh, Boston and San Diego,”; he said.

Kernell also hosted “;Crossfire”; on KGMB, a public affairs show he devised that Heftel also hosted. In 1973 “;there was some shuffling around, and I ended up doing some news shifts,”; he said. During this time Kernell became the weekend news anchor for KGMB, working with Linda Coble, Jim Lathrop, Dan Chun, Bart Fredo and Mel Proctor. That same year, Kernell covered TV reporter Al Allen's fatal airplane crash. “;I tearfully reported his death on air and hope I did a respectful job,”; he said.

Kernell left the islands in 1974 for Seattle, where he became vice president at public relations companies Cole and Weber, as well as Hill and Knowlton.

In 1991 he moved south of the border to Morelia, Mexico. Despite being in semiretirement, Kernell kept a busy schedule teaching English at a local orphanage and worked as a part-time consultant promoting U.S. soft wood for use in timber-frame housing.

Then, one day in December 1995, he felt his whole left side go limp. He had suffered “;a moderate hemorrhagic stroke,”; he said.

Kernell lost the use of his left arm but taught himself to type one-handed, and he continues to exercise daily.

“;My stroke side, every muscle included, gets its fair share of exercise, and I am feeling stronger, more in control,”; he said. “;There is considerable anecdotal evidence to show that stroke survivors who take extraordinary good care of themselves, which I do, actually improve each year upon year following their stroke.”;

After leaving Mexico, Kernell moved to Charleston, S.C., in 1997, where he started a chapter of the National Stroke Association in that state and was appointed one of 17 commissioners for disability issues for the city of Charleston. That's where he founded his Geezer Brigade, and proudly serves as its “;Geezer in Chief.”;

For the past several years, he has lived in Ocean Springs, Miss., just outside of Biloxi. As if being a stroke survivor wasn't enough, in 2005 he survived Hurricane Katrina, barely.

“;I'm 20 feet above sea level, just far and high enough to have suffered only minor damage as Katrina passed over my poor old house with me in it,”; he said. Today his experiences come alive through his newspaper and magazine articles. He's also authored a book, “;1001 Things to DO in Retirement,”; which is available via Kindle on Amazon.com.

Kernell has wise advice that works regardless of age. “;Find something you love to do and do it every day, no matter what,”; he said.