Don Joe McKernan

Don Joe McKernanLong-time resident Don Joe “DJ” McKernan passed away peacefully at his home on Jan. 20, 2020, surrounded by family.

A celebration of his life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, at Sage Hall at Desert Empire Fairgrounds.

Don Joe was born April 1, 1938, in Beatrice, Neb., to Jerome Bernard and Blanche Madonna (Mellinger) McKernan. The McKernan family moved to California in 1940, eventually settling in the Indian Wells Valley in 1943 when Don Joe’s father, Jerome “Mac” McKernan, was assigned as the area’s first deputy sheriff.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Don Joe gave back to the community by serving in many civic capacities, including on the Desert Empire Fair Board, the IWV Water Board, the Eastern Kern County Resource Conservation District, a BLM Steering Committee, and as the construction coordinator for the Historic USO Building’s restoration.

As a youth and young adult, Don Joe worked in construction and at the McKernan Richfield Station to pay for his various extracurricular activities. He graduated from Sherman E. Burroughs High School and went on to continue his education at both Brigham Young University and Bakersfield Community College. He was employed by PG&E as a measurement and control mechanic for 33 years, retiring in 1993.

Don Joe was an avid horseman and was very active in local horse groups. Growing up he traveled, on horseback, every square inch of the valley, including areas now restricted on the Navy base. Traveling with his longtime friend Jack Moore, Don Joe explored his beloved Sierras, Nine Mile Canyon and Kennedy Meadows, again on the back of a horse.

Don Joe often shared tales of his adventures in the early years of Ridgecrest and of his encounters with many desert characters, including Seldom Seen Slim, Pancho Barnes, Burro Schmidt and Death Valley Scotty, having had a personal acquaintance with each of them.

Don Joe married the love of his life Joan Elizabeth Kimley on Aug. 3, 1958, in the All Faith Chapel at China Lake. They celebrated their 61st anniversary in August. They were the owners of the Triple D Bar J Quarter Horse Ranch and were active in horse shows, endurance rides, trail rides, gymkhanas, ropings and rodeos in Ridgecrest and neighboring towns.

DJ was involved with the Valley Riders (local horse group) for more than 60 years, and he helped many local riders, young and old, develop their love of horses.

Don Joe was a loving and devoted husband to Joan, dedicated father to their daughters Donna Jo and DeAnne, and proud grandfather to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Don Joe was preceded in death by his parents and infant sister Jolene. He is survived by his wife, Joan; daughters, Donna Jo (Taylor) Smith and DeAnne (Ernie) Bell; grandchildren, Daniel Smith, Natalie (Nathan) Salt, Megan (Chris) Moynihan, Logan (Bria) Smith, Jacob (Haillie Moudy) Bell, Zachary Bell, Abigail Smith and Becca (Cody) O’Donnell; seven great-grandchildren; and countless friends who mourn his passing.

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to Ronald McDonald House Charities (www. rmhc.org).

— Submitted by the family of Don Jo McKernan

Story First Published: 2020-02-07