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Dr. Susan Kern was the first to tackle many challenges during her 31 years at ISU, which she joined in 1974 after completing a Ph.D. at Purdue University. She relocated with her husband, Steve, to Bloomington-Normal when his transfer by State Farm Insurance Company created opportunity for her to become one of the first faculty with a doctorate to join ISU’s Home Economics Department.

Kern enjoyed teaching housing, equipment, and advanced food courses despite the need to create lab space. She transitioned into administrative roles at the persistence of Dean Jack Razor. She began as the first woman executive officer to the president under Lloyd Watkins. She served on the leadership team of presidents Tom Wallace, David Strand, Victor Boschini Jr., and Al Bowman, tackling difficult but fulfilling tasks.

One involved the University’s first Board of Trustees. Kern worked with the Alumni Association Board of Directors to recommend individuals as the first appointees to the board formed in 1996, and wrote operating documents still in use today. “It was one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments of my career,” Kern said.

It was equally daunting to help facilitate the merger of Mennonite College of Nursing into Illinois State. “I developed the processes and policies necessary to make the transition of the then private college with its religious affiliation to our public university,” Kern said of the union that was completed in 1999. “This was the first merger of its type done in Illinois.”

She also paved the way for ISU’s intensified philanthropic efforts as vice president of University Advancement. Kern led the University’s first comprehensive campaign, Redefining “normal,” which exceeded an $88 million goal with $97 million raised by the conclusion in 2005.

It was that same year that Kern retired. She and Steve keep Bloomington as their primary home, but winter in California. They attend ISU events and remain supportive, creating the Susan T. Kern Special Opportunity Endowed Scholarship Fund, as well as support for the Actuarial Science program. They enjoy time with their adult sons and international traveling, having visited 66 countries in retirement.

Kern can be reached at