Saturday, November 28 , 2015, 6:31 pm | Mostly Cloudy 55º

For Jeweler Richard Kern, Santa Barbara Proves a Fit to Last a Lifetime

The longtime Churchill Jewelers owner, military veteran and local fixture opens up about his life in the community and abroad

Richard Kern, 93, stands in the doorway of his State Street shop, Churchill Jewelers. Though Kern says he has tried to retire, he can still be found in the store six days a week.
Richard Kern, 93, stands in the doorway of his State Street shop, Churchill Jewelers. Though Kern says he has tried to retire, he can still be found in the store six days a week.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Standing in the doorway of his store, Churchill Jewelers on State Street, Richard Kern is about as local as they come.

The 93-year-old jewelry store owner has been a Santa Barbara fixture for decades. He recently spent time with Noozhawk to talk about his life in the community and abroad. 

Though he says he tried to retire, Kern can still be found in the store six days a week, among the diamond engagement rings and Rolex watches on display.

Kern started at the beginning, recalling that his grandmother had moved to Santa Barbara in 1916 to work at Casa Dorinda as Anna Bliss' personal secretary, and was instrumental in the formation of the retirement community.

Kern's mother came with her in the move, and after marrying Kern's father, Richard was born at Cottage Hospital in 1921.

He's a graduate of Santa Barbara High School — "the only high school there was at that time" — as well as Santa Barbara Junior High and Roosevelt Elementary.

He began working at Churchill Jewelers at age 13 "after school and on Saturdays. … I did errands, I went to the post office and would wash the showcases and stuff like that."

Kern was still working at the shop and had finished one year of college at Santa Barbara State College, which later became UCSB, when he enlisted in the service.

Before Kern was shipped out to basic training, he stopped into the jewelry shop to say goodbye to the shop's owner, Roy Churchill.

"He said, 'When you get back, your job will be waiting for you,'" Kern recalled.

Basic training took him to Camp Fannin near Tyler, Texas, and he was soon sent to Le Havre, France, with the 76th Infantry Division, "and then we started moving east, where we had minor skirmishes, but nothing major."

That all changed when his division was sent to the Battle of the Bulge, where they were sent to hold the southern end of the bulge where Germany and Belgium met for about three weeks. Germany was throwing much of its military might into what would be one of its last stands, and "the weather was absolutely terrible," Kern recalled. "It was a mixture of snow, rain and mud."

"You put on wet clothes everyday, but we survived," he said.

Kern and his fellow soldiers did hold that end of the bulge, but "we put up a pretty good fight for it and we lost quite a few guys."

His division had won the battle in Ardennes Forest in Germany and then reorganized for the Battle of the Bulge.

"We put everything we had in that to win it," he said.

After that victory, Kern was about to be shipped to the Pacific because the war with Japan was still going on, but the Japanese surrendered while he was in London waiting to be deployed.

He returned to the United States with his whole division — about 15,000 men — on the Queen Mary, which took five days to travel by ocean from London to New York. When they spotted the New York shoreline, the men on the boat went wild.

"One guy fell overboard," Kern recalled. "He got excited when he saw some girls."

Kern traveled back to Santa Barbara by train from New York, and showed up at his parents' home at 1617 State St. — a surprise for his mother, because he hadn't told her when he'd be returning.

"I knocked on the door, and she couldn't believe it," he said.

Kern soon stopped into the jewelry shop that was so familiar, and when he went in to say hello, Churchill asked when Kern could start working again for the company.

He began doing benchwork for the jeweler, sizing rings and making jewelry, and when Churchill died in 1947, Kern ran the store for his widow for about three years and then was able to purchase it.

Also after his return, Kern married his first wife, who soon gave birth to triplet daughters — one of whom, Lexi, works in Kern's store.

"She's running it — I work for her now," he said.

Kern was also one of the charter members of the Optimist Club of Santa Barbara in the 1940s, and the local branch of the service organization was founded under his direction.

As tourists and locals alike pass in front of his store at 1015 State St., Kern said he's chosen to stay in the city because of the climate and the people, and that he's seen the city "gradually change for the better."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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