CHEROKEE, Iowa | The addition to Kenny Bern's home on West Willow Street in Cherokee is a virtual shrine to high school and collegiate athletics.
Row upon row of pictures, baseballs, athletic programs, softballs and tickets are displayed where Bern, 90, spends much of his time. It's also where friends who stop by to visit can catch him, a fan for all seasons always willing to catch up on the previous night's game.
An Iowa Hall of Fame bowler, Bern has been to the Iowa High School Athletic Association Boys' State Basketball Tournament each March for three-quarters of a century, the only exceptions being those years he served in the military during World War II. Bern keeps ticket stubs for state tournaments and has them affixed to a display at the east edge of his addition. They're hanging near dozens of pins he's received from local high school athletes.
"I always sit in the same seat at the state tournament," Bern says. "The ushers all know me by name."
As do all of the Braves athletes who wear the black and gold for Cherokee, Bern's hometown team. The retiree starts early, often attending their afternoon games as middle schoolers before they work their way on to the varsity rosters. Student-athletes sometimes ask Bern to pose for a photo with him after they've hit a home run, for example.
"And lots of nights, those kids offer to walk me to my car," he says.
An old Briar Cliff Chargers photograph on the wall launches Bern into a story about stopping to see legendary coach Ray Nacke, the father of Briar Cliff basketball. Bern says Nacke was recovering from a heart attack while his team played a game in Sioux City. Bern attended the game and stopped to see Nacke in the hospital after it was over.
"Coach Nacke had listened to the game and was so upset with how it went, I thought he was going to have another heart attack," Bern says. "I told my wife (Olga) that we had to get out of there, to let him cool down."
The Berns left the hospital and drove across the city to catch Morningside College in hoops action that night.
There are photos of University of South Dakota Coyotes, Buena Vista Beavers and even the professional athlete here and there. Bert Blyleven, a 2011 inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, has a signed Hall of Fame photo for his pal, Kenny Bern. Blyleven, an announcer for the Minnesota Twins, remembers Bern a couple of times each year, and sends a card on his birthday and at Christmas.
"You don't get any better than Bert Blyleven," Bern says.
And when it comes to showing passion for the local sports scene, nobody does it better than super-fan Kenny Bern.