Kenneth Leo Kiernan

Date of Birth

July 10, 1928

Date of Death

February 21, 2021

City of Death

Santa Barbara

It is with a heavy heart we announce the death of a dear husband, father and friend, Ken Kiernan. He passed away peacefully, the evening of February 21, 2021, due to complications of congestive heart failure and amyloid heart disease. He was 92 years old.

Kenneth Leo Kiernan was born in Dearborn, Michigan on July 10th, 1928 to a mother with a family history going back before the American Revolution. His father was the son of Irish immigrant parents and was an attorney for Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. Tragically, Kenneth’s mother died when he was 4 years old. It was a difficult time both emotionally and financially as it was the Great Depression. Sadly, his father could not afford a babysitter and there was no family nearby to help, so Ken and his older brother, Frank, were placed in an orphanage. They spent much of their childhood at Barbour Hall in Kalamazoo, Michigan, an orphanage/school run by Sisters of St. Joseph.

After the Depression, Ken’s father remarried and he gained another brother, Ralph. In high school he excelled in academics and sports. In sports, he was especially good at basketball and baseball. He graduated with honors: president of his class and valedictorian. Always a high achiever, he graduated University of Michigan with honors and a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics.

As is the case in life, nothing goes as planned: the Korean War began and Ken was drafted. Ken nearly spent 2 years in Korea, from January 1951 to November 1952. The Korean War was a life changing experience for him. He saw the devastation of war first hand: the suffering of others and himself, spending 3 weeks in a hospital after driving over a landmine. Later, he was invited to continue a career in the military, but chose to return to civilian life.

After his wartime experience, he joined the General Motors’ Parade of Progress, an exhibit that toured the country, combining entertainment, education and promotion, informing the public about advances in technology and science. He made many friendships during this period, some becoming lifelong. He followed that up with a PR position at Aerospace, working along side his brother in Sacramento, CA. It was a good time in his life: spending quality hours with family and friends. Also, he made happy memories playing catch with his young nephew, Frank Jr.! Again, Ken was bit by the wanderlust bug, which resulted in many enjoyable months traveling Europe.

One of his most memorable adventures was growing cotton in the Australian outback, near St. George. The operation went belly up, but he and his group of buddies had the distinction of being some of the first entrepreneurs to grow cotton there. Now, it is a large, thriving industry. The outback could get miserably hot and it was hard work, but he was entertained by the personalities of the people he met and some of their colorful sayings. On a side note, he was very proud of how he protected a family of kangaroos from discovery(as they are hunted frequently by the locals). So, even though it was not a financial success, it was a unique and exciting experience. He loved Australia! For years, he frequently talked about returning there.

In 1964 he worked in the Whirlpool pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York City. His future wife, Katherine, was working at the Scott Paper exhibit and by pure coincidence, they met at a mutual acquaintance’s party. They were married in the same year! Shortly, thereafter, drawn to the natural beauty and job prospects, they moved to Walnut Creek, CA to begin a new chapter.

In 1966, Katherine gave birth to their only child, Kylie. Not too long after, Ken and Kay moved back to the East Coast, to Florida, near the Everglades National Park and decided to open a gift store. The store was very successful; focusing on exotic imports from all over the world. Unfortunately, they felt they could not stay there, due to health concerns relating to their daughter.

This prompted them to finish their graduate degrees, so they would have more career and location choices. Katherine received her Master’s in American History from Hunter College in New York and Kenneth received his Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology from East Carolina University in North Carolina.

Many moves later, the Kiernan family settled in Santa Barbara, CA. Kathy and Ken held a variety of positions in the city. Kenneth was assistant principal, guidance counselor and journalism instructor at Bishop Diego High School. Some time after that, Ken worked at the Probation Department as a Juvenile Corrections Officer. He was able to use his skills as an educator and counselor to help young people with problems. He also worked for a time at the post office. After retiring, Kenneth edited and self-published a book he had completed nearly 25 years earlier.

Both Ken and Kathy enjoyed the arts, literature, nature and spending time with family and friends. Always a man of letters and a wordsmith, he relished a clever turn of phrase that brought a smile. He also had a melodious voice and, would break into song with hardly any prompting, especially one from a favorite musical. One friend remembered his gifts as an orator, with his resonant speaking voice.

In addition to these talents, he was a devoted husband always and a loving father. He supported his wife during her lengthy illness and his daughter, during her medical challenges. He will be forever missed and forever loved, leaving an empty space only he can fill. But though we may grieve his loss, may he find joy in the afterlife, surrounded by all the loved ones who have gone before…

He is preceded in death by his wife, Katherine Kiernan, of 51 years; brothers, Frank and Ralph Kiernan; sister-in-law Lyla Kiernan; parents, Frank and Florence Kiernan; step-mother, Kathryn Kiernan. He is survived by his daughter, Kylie Kershaw(Robert); brothers-in-law Henry Kafel(Carol) and John Kafel(Suzanne); sister-in-law Judy Kiernan; cousin Sharon Dante(Steve); several nieces and nephews, as well as close family friends.

No public ceremony will be held at this time, but an online memorial is being planned for the future. In the meantime, please go to to share a special memory, or a few thoughts and photos of Ken.
Donations can be made to the American Heart Association.


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