MERLE GRACE KEARNS - 1938-2014
Speaking from first hand experience as a friend, colleague and benefactor, this writer respectfully and fondly shares just how extensively Merle Grace Kearns had the best interests of her constituents at heart.
Merle passed away on Aug. 9 and private services were held Friday, with burial in Calvary Cemetery, Dayton. Memorial contributions can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, Central Ohio Chapter, 1379 Dublin Road, Columbus, Ohio 43215.
Her political career spanned 27 years: Clark County commissioner; state senator and representative and director of the state agency on aging. In 2010, she was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. She was most proud of leading the legislative effort to enact Ohio law recognizing the profession of Advance Practice Nurses (APN’s. She received an honorary degree from Wright State University for this..
Comments and recollections evidence just how much the one-time school teacher imprinted the lives of thousands of Ohio residents. .She earned her bachelor of arts degree in home economics from The Ohio State University.
After retiring from the state legislature , she became Director of the Ohio Department of Aging in the cabinet of then governor Robert Taft, who said,”She did a superb job.”
He remarked “She understood both policy and the legislative process and knew how to get things done. She was a strong supporter of home health care to keep the elderly and disabled at home whenever possible instead of in a long term care facility. Merle was an extraordinary public servant who really cared about people and was knowledgeable about human services programs. She also understood health care and was successiful in moving the Advance Practice Nursing bill through the legislature.”
Merle’s influence in the General Assembly touched many lives across Ohio, especially those with mental health or developmental disabilities. How well I recall all those hours in meetings with Merle and Michael O’Neill, then director of Toward Independence. I recall too, Merle’s yearly parties she held in Springfield to greet colleagues and constituents and say “”thanks” for their support.
She’s described as a “warm, friendly woman and a legislator with integrity “ by Larry Moore, Greene County Newspapers columnist and outdoors writer, who remarked, “Merle was a wonderful friend to gun owners and to sportsmen. “I remember my first Fish Ohio day that I was on a boat with her,” he shared. “She wasn’t fishing. The captain asked if she wanted to fish. She said she couldn’t because she forgot her license. The captain suggested that it would be okay. Merle said no because you are supposed to carry your license with you, so it wouldn’t be right. “
“She was a cheerleader for the rest of us. She was happy being on the lake watching us.”
The only time she missed a Greene County Fish and Game Association fish fry was when the legislature was in session late, Larry added.
A loving wife and mother, Merle is survived by her husband, Thomas, four sons, eight grandchildren, three sisters, three brothers and numerous nieces and nephews.
Truly, Merle Grace Kearns was a formidable personality who goes down in history as our relentless and inimitable go-to person in Columbus. A successor Chris Widener sums it up, “Merle was a dedicated public servant , who believed in helping the most in need.”
Lizz Studebaker is a long-time feature writer for the Greene County Newspapers.