Phil Kern wearing glasses smiling at the camera

In Memoriam: John Philip (Phil) Kern
January 3, 1939 – October 19, 2023

John Philip (Phil) Kern of Thetford, VT died October 19, 2023 at the Jack Byrne Palliative Care
Center in Lebanon, NH . He was born January 3, 1939 in Springfield, MA to Otto Kern and
Katharine Ersfeld and grew up in East Longmeadow, MA. He was predeceased by two
brothers, Otto Kern, Jr. of Hampden, MA and William Kern of Nova Scotia, Canada. Phil is
survived by his wife, Claudia of Thetford, VT; and their son, Colin of Peabody, MA.
Phil studied Geology, Biology, and Paleontology and received a Ph. D. in Geology from the
University of California, Los Angeles in 1968. From 1968-1994 he taught at San Diego State
University, was Chair of the Geology Department from 1985-1989, and in 2000 he became
Professor Emeritus.
Initially, his research and field work focused on documenting the paleontology and
paleoecology of Pliocene and Pleistocene marine invertebrate faunas of southern California,
augmented by a series of early ichnology studies of marine trace fossils from sites in the US
and eastern Europe. Later, Phil and his students shifted their attention to mapping and
documenting the stair-step sequence of elevated Pleistocene marine terraces of San Diego
County, the results of which were eventually incorporated into the published geologic maps of
Kennedy and Tan (2005, 2008). This work also documented patterns of terrace deformation
across the Rose Canyon Fault Zone, demonstrating the recency of local faulting. Embarking on
this new line of research ultimately led Phil to be appointed to the San Diego County
Earthquake Preparedness Committee and to author a popular book titled “Earthquakes and
Faults in San Diego.”
In 1974-75 Phil spent a sabbatical teaching at the Paleontological Institute of the University of
Vienna, Austria; and in 1978-79 he was a National Academy of Science Exchange Fellow at the
Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. 1981-82 he was a visiting professor at Dartmouth
College and in1989-90 at Middlebury College.
The family moved to Lyme, NH in 1993. Locally Phil gave talks and led educational walks on
ferns, mycorrhizal fungi, and the geology of the Upper Valley and loved to visit elementary
classrooms to speak on these subjects.
Phil inspired all who knew him with his kindness, his deep love for the natural world, and his
curiosity about the Universe. From childhood he was a birder, he loved hiking and wild places,
and practiced daily to be awake to life around him. He was an avid reader of books on natural
history and cosmology and found great joy in classical music. Some of his happiest times
were the seven trips to India he and Claudia made to teach young tribal children at the Sikkim
Himalayan Academy in the Himalayan foothills.