Olathe police officer Michael Ray Kern was remembered this week as a decorated officer who named his boat “Bad Idea” and painted his daughter’s toenails — a man who was both fun and firm, loving and strong.
This was the guy who once balked at the idea of patrolling in a motorcycle — citing the lack of a cup holder and a radio — but also enjoyed a decorated career as a police officer, his police partner, Officer Matt Mismer, recalled at the celebration of Kern’s life Tuesday at Life Church in Olathe.
Kern died suddenly of a heart attack Jan. 20 while readying his police motorcycle to join President Barack Obama’s motorcade during his Jan. 22 appearance at the University of Kansas.
He is survived by his wife, Denise Kern née Webster, and children, Derek Michael, Darci Ranee and Kyndall Lynn.
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Mismer and Kern worked on the Olathe Police Department’s Motor Unit, the motorcycle patrol group.
Both represented the department in competitive motorcycle riding, too. In the fall of 2011, Mismer and Kern took first place in a team ride that had them weave through a course tethered together, a physical metaphor Mismer offered at the services to demonstrate how well the late officer knew him, and vice versa.
Mismer said together, he and Kern are jokingly referred to as “the twins.”
Opening his remarks, Mismer made note of the hour, about half past 10 a.m., which in his universe means he and his partner are nearing a non-negotiable responsibility: lunch.
“Right about now, Mike’s stomach is rumbling, I guarantee you,” Mismer said. “At 11 promptly, Mike would eat lunch. It’s nearing 11 now, so I’ll make this brief.”
Mismer recalled spending time Kern, often doing nothing, in the company of a grill and beer, or testing the lake waters on a boat that the late officer had named “Bad Idea.”
Kern’s candor was matched with the seriousness he applied to his work.
Speaking at the service, Olathe Police Chief Steve Menke said a review of Kern’s file produced 29 accolades.
To put that into perspective, “that’s more than me,” Menke said.
Among them was an officer of the year recognition in 2000 from his three-year service with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office where he rose to the rank of corporal.
“That’s not just something you do,” Cass County Sheriff Cpt. Mitch Phillips said. “Not many guys come on for three years and decide they’re going to be corporal. But he stood out.”
Phillips remembered Kern as someone quick to laugh and eager to learn, a police officer but a father first.
Kern joined the Olathe Police Department in October 2001.
Menke said Kern would distinguish himself as an officer with a sense of both humor and duty proportional to his formidable stature.
“The Olathe citizens are better because of Mike’s work. He helped mankind and made a difference,” Menke said. “Shouldn’t we all hope to do so in our lifetimes?”
The address was given before a church packed with Kern’s family and friends as well as numerous local officers who paid their respects to the fallen officer.
“We tend to think that the laws don’t apply to us, that there will never be a time of reckoning, that there will never be a day like this,” Menke said. “Let this be a lesson, and live your life accordingly. Love those who are important to you.”
The seriousness Kern showed in his work shared the same life with the man who took selfies and painted daughter Kyndall’s fingernails.
This was also the same man who wasn’t afraid to ask for help when he got overwhelmed.
“He was a mountain of a man with a child inside hungry for God,” Pastor Clint Sprague said.
Sprague recalled meeting Kern for the first time in 2012, a point at which his focus on his faith was loosening and his marriage was starting to show cracks in its foundation.
“It’s on me. I haven’t been the husband I needed to be,” Sprague said quoted him saying.
“He surrendered his life to God right here.”
It was after Kern had died that the pastor learned that the officer made the the pastor’s house a part of his security route without his knowing.
“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Sprague said.
Kern had served in the motorcades that accompanied Vice President Joe Biden, former first lady Laura Bush, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and fallen Olathe soldier Spencer Duncan.
A motorcade like the one Kern would have been a part of — just a lot bigger — escorted him to Pleasant Valley Cemetery where his body was laid to rest.
“To Mike, truly rest in peace, my brother,” Menke said. “We’ll take it from here.”