Dr. Charles Kernodle ’38: A lifetime of service
At 100 years of age, the Elon alumnus is still doing what he loves for the benefit of his community.
If you ask James McGill ’98 to describe Dr. Charles Kernodle, Jr. ’38, he has only one word: irreplaceable. As the football coach at Williams High School in Burlington, North Carolina, he has spent a lot of time with Kernodle, who since 1949 has serves as the team doctor for the Bulldogs.
“He is an anchor, as solid as it gets,” McGill says. “He has touched the lives of thousands of young men and women. He is such a great role model; you never see him with a negative attitude even when things are not going the right way [on the field].
He is irreplaceable. ”
Kernodle, who retired from private practice in 1984, turned 100 years old on Oct. 26—not that anyone would have guessed it by looking at him. He still walks to the library, which is a mile away from his house, attends as many Duke football and basketball games as he can and musters enough energy each summer to plant more than 500 tomato plants at his garden at a friend’s farm in western Alamance County, on land that once belonged to his family. He later distributes those tomatoes to people in the community and friends, including Duke’s Coack “K” and coach David Cutcliffe. “I’ve touched hundreds of people with my tomatoes,” he says, “I enjoy doing it.”
It’s this connection to his community that grounds him and keeps him going. The son of a farmer and country doctor, and a school teacher, Kernodle followed in the footsteps of his brother, Harold, and attended Duke University after graduating from Elon in 1938. His studies were interrupted by World War II; he joined the army and spent two years in Europe serving as chief of surgery. He completed his residency at Duke in 1946 and returned to Burlington to practice as a surgeon in 1949. That same year, he started working as the Williams High School football team doctor, a decision made easier by the fact he lived across the street from the school at the time. He often tells the story of how his wife would turn the porch light on if he was needed at the hospital so he could see it from the sidelines. He also served as team physician for several Elon teams, working alongside legendary coaches like Sid Varney (football) and Bill Miller and Bill Morningstar (basketball).
In 1950, he, Harold and cousin John Robert ’35 started the Kenodle Clinic, which has now grown to be a multi-specialty group practice with more than 50 medical providers in 15 areas of specialty as part of Duke Health. For the next 34 years, Kernodle took care of the sick, just as his father had done before him. He also started giving free physical exams, first only to Williams football players and later to all athletes from area middle and high schools, a tradition the clinic continues to this day. “I’m very proud of that,” he says.
When high school football season starts, Kernodle can be found on the sidelines, watching the Bulldogs play and providing assistance when needed. He doesn’t miss a home game and often travels with the team for away games, unless he is bird hunting in Oklahoma. “Words cannot express all that Dr. Kernodle has done for Williams High School,” principal Stephanie Hunt says. “The thing that stands out the most to me is the example that he sets for all young men. Men like him are one in a million.”
His dedication to the team and his community has not gone unnoticed. In 2015 he was recognized with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest honor, and in 2011 the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce recognized him with the Distinguished Service in Sports Award. For his 90th birthday on Oct. 26, 2007, Williams High School renamed its football field in his honor. Longtime friend and retired football coach Sam Story ’69 was there to celebrate the man he considers a second father. Story first met Kernodle as a high school student and later as the two were on the sidelines during his years coaching the Bulldogs from 1983 to 2007. He has loved having Kernodle visit his home on holidays and swapping Bulldogs, Blue Devil and Elon stories. “He is an amazing individual,” says Story, whose stint as head football coach at Williams ran for 25 years. “His dedication and his love for the game has earned him not only the respect of Williams High School athletes, but unconditional love from our entire community who know him as ‘Dr. Charles.’”
While his hearing is not as sharp as it once was and he no longer can run five miles twice a week as he used to when he was in his 70s, Kernodle is determined to keep going. “As long as my health is good, I’m going to farm, I’m going to garden some,” he says, adding that he will wait until next year to determine whether he will continue being team physician emeritus at Williams. “If I’m still active and can do it, I still would like to do it.” If there is a downside to living this long, he says, is the fact that you outlive your friends and loved ones. Out of seven siblings, he is one of two who are still alive. Yet, he can look back at his life and be proud of what he has accomplished.
“I’d like to be remembered, through the clinic, as a caring surgeon, one who tried to always be honest with his patients, did things that were right for them and did not overcharge them,” he says. “And also I’d like to be remembered as active in the community, working with young people and trying to help them go down the right track.”
If the admiration of those who know him is anything to go by, he will be remembered as so much more. “There’s a bond and love for Dr. Charles that surpasses expectations,” Story says. “I know how loving, giving and kind he is as a father to his two sons and all his family, a role model to players and a best friend to me.
“If the adage ‘We reap what we sow’ is true, then surley the seeds Dr. Charles has sown will assure that he lives another 100 years.”