Dean Kerns, a founder of DaySpring Cards, died June 28 at the age of 84.
In 1971, Kerns and joint founders Don Leetch, Russ Flint and Roy Lessin started the company as a small commercial print shop in California, according to the company website, www.dayspring.com. Their business would go on to become the largest publisher and distributor of Christian greeting cards in the world, selling more than 7,000 individual formats of products in 60 countries and touching more than 1 billion people a year through the receipt of cards and gifts.
"Who would have ever thought that two men would move a small business (with 20 employees and eight families) to our small town in 1979 and would have such an impact on our community, region and the world," said James Barnett, current CEO of DaySpring Cards. "Not only has the DaySpring business employed 200 to 500 people yearly in the past 39 years, it has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into our local economy. And the spiritual impact on our community and region has been tremendous.
"Dean was a great encourager and giver, but also a business leader, pastor, and community leader. He gave selflessly of his time, talents and treasure to help others. He has been a mentor to me and impacted my life significantly. I am grateful to have been his friend for the last 37 years."
According to Kerns' obituary, published in the July 4 edition of the Herald-Leader, he was born in Logan, Okla., on Sept. 18, 1933, to Clyde and Daisy Kerns. He grew up in the rural area, where he developed a love for the outdoors, fishing and sports, it states.
Kerns graduated from Laverne (Okla.) High School in 1951. He earned a divinity degree from Pasadena Nazarene College in California in 1956. He also met his wife, Ruth Walsh, at the college and they were married on April 11, 1957, in Pasadena, Calif.
After college, the couple moved to Kansas City, Mo., where Dean attended and graduated from Nazarene Theological Seminary. After seminary, he and his wife moved back to California and founded La Mirada Nazarene Church in the summer of 1960.
In 1960, Dean also met fellow minister Don Leech, his obituary states. The two pastors formed a friendship that would lead to a business and ministry partnership lasting more than 50 years. In 1963, the two men resigned from their pastorates to focus on their vision of "doing what we can in our generation to make Christ known."
Once DaySpring was founded in 1971, the company remained in California for eight years before moving to Siloam Springs in 1979.
In the beginning, all of the DaySpring founders were involved in every aspect of the business, jumping in to do whatever needed to be done, according to Roy Lessin, a fellow founder whose friendship with Kerns spanned more than 50 years.
Lessin said once the company began focusing on greeting cards, he and Kerns made many trips together to visit photographers and pick out art. As the company grew and their roles became more defined, Kerns focused on the production side of the business and moved into an administrative role, Lessin said.
One of Kern's biggest impacts on DaySpring was the ability to communicate the company's vision, Lessin said.
"He expressed the heart of why DaySpring was in business," Lessin said. "I would say that was one of his biggest contributions. ... He did a very good job of communicating the vision. The reason that DaySpring existed was to share God's heart with other people and to make Christ known, really through the printed page and the products we were doing. That was an extension of who he was, no one could really communicate that vision any better than he could."
Leetch and Kerns sold DaySpring Cards to the David C. Cook Publishing Company of Colorado Springs in 1987 but continued to have a role in the company for a few years following the sale. Kerns officially retired in January of 1992, according to Brenda Turner, DaySpring vice president of communications and administration.
In 1999, DaySpring was acquired by Hallmark Cards Inc. Currently, products from the company's warehouses in Siloam Springs are shipped around the world and sold in channels such as Walmart, Target, Walgreens and independent stores, as well as online, Turner said.
Lessin said that Kern's retirement gave him more time to focus on his ministry, Outreach Center Church, which he and Leetch also founded. Kern's wife Ruth died in 1992, and he remarried Carol Atkins at the church the following year, his obituary states.
In addition to his work at DaySpring, Kerns was involved with the Chamber of Commerce and served on the John Brown University board from 1986 to 2001. Upon he his retirement from the board, he was elected Trustee Emeriti.
"Dean Kerns was a very special friend to JBU and to the Siloam Springs community," said Jim Krall, JBU vice president for university advancement. "He had one of the most gracious and kind spirits of anyone I met. I deeply appreciate how he always had a listening ear and an encouraging word for all."
In business and the community, Kerns led with the heart of a pastor, Lessin said. He described his friend as "the real deal," and said he was the same person whether he was serving the community, on the golf course, fishing or in church.
"Dean was an encourager, he was a giver and he cared a great deal about what God thought about him," Lessin said. "He lived his life to be pleasing to the Lord and to have God's approval on what he was doing. You can't really define Dean's life without those things."
A celebration of life service for Kerns was held at John Brown University's Cathedral of the Ozarks on July 7.General News on 07/11/2018
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