December 5, 2002


The Reverend Mrs. Iris Israel Kerr, Pastor of the Kahoka Presbyterian Church, Kahoka, MO, died suddenly on December 4, 2002, at Northeast Regional Hospital in Kirksville, MO.

Iris was born in a log cabin in Wilmathsville, MO, the daughter of J. Frank and Sylvia Poe Israel.

She is survived by Nancy Kerr of Prince George, British Columbia, Konrad Kerr and his wife, Bonnie of Coronado, CA, and Pamela Kerr Glasgow of Memphis, MO; four grandchildren, Richard Williams of New York, NY, Donna Williams of Great Falls, MT, Jim Kerr of San Diego, CA, Jeff Kerr, with the Peace Corps in Namibia, Africa, the Dr. John Sparks family and early loved "adopted" grandson, Jeff Sparks of Kirksville, MO; special friends, Perlanna Robinson, Joan Ferguson, John and Vickie Dodge of Memphis, MO; her church family in Kahoka, MO; and a host of friends.

Mrs. Kerr's extended family included many members of the churches who called her "Mama Kerr" and remember her as having made an important difference in their lives.

Mrs. Kerr was preceded in death by her parents, J. Frank and Sylvia Poe Israel; a brother, Ernest A. Israel; her husband, Owen W. Kerr; and infant grandson, John Mark Williams; a son-in-law, Henry M. Glasgow and Charles Tylee Issertell.

At the age of 16, Iris taught at the White School, a one-room schoolhouse in rural Scotland County, MO. Four of her students from that school survive her.

Mrs. Kerr was licensed to preach at the age of 16 by the Methodist Church. She was an active Christian evangelist, speaking in many rural churches.

She attended Baker University prior to her marriage to Owen W. Kerr of rural Scotland County on September 1, 1929. They were sent forth from their home church, the Memphis Methodist Church where their parents were active members and where they remained active, into the Christian ministry when they went east to Boston University School of Theology in Boston, MA. Owen graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity and Iris with a Bachelor of Religious Education - Iris was Phi Beta Kappa.

After Mr. Kerr's ordination, their first church was in Haverhill, MA, where their daughter, Nancy Kerr was born. Iris filled the pulpit when her husband studied in the Holy Land from 1936-1938. In 1939, Iris was sent as a delegate to the First Conference for Christian Youth in Amsterdam Holland. In 1940, they moved to a church in East Bridgewater, MA, where their son, Konrad, and their daughter, Pamela, were born. In 1941, Mr. Kerr entered the service as a Chaplain. Mrs. Kerr then served both his church and hers and was finally ordained on December 17, 1943, becoming the second woman to be ordained in that area at that time. She was proud that one of her examiners said that he "had never heard a clearer and more powerful statement of faith than she had expressed".

Although widely separated from their family in the Midwest, the Kerrs had a large, loving "adopted" family in New England, including Charles Tylee Isertell (who was legally adopted), Pa Dick and Ma Frannie Silverthorne, Myra Silverthorne, Kay and Loren Danielson, Keith and Millie Clark, Pat Wells, Martha Perkins and Miriam Cummings.

During the War Years, Mrs. Kerr served the West Congregational Church in East Bridgewater and a mission church in West Bridgewater, bicycling with Nancy between the two churches on Sunday mornings (in fact she loaned the bicycles to a couple she married during the war for their honeymoon). Many of the couples she married during the war years have celebrated their 50th anniversaries. After the war, when Mr. Kerr returned from the service with lung problems, the family moved to Manitou Springs, CO, where they served the Manitou Springs Congregational Church. Mrs. Kerr returned to teaching when her youngest went to school. In 1952, the family moved east to East Natick, MA, where Mr. Kerr served a Methodist Church. In 1954, they moved to Brighton (Boston), MA, where they served the Oak Square Methodist Church. In 1963, they moved to the Highland Union Methodist Church in Lowell, MA.

Mrs. Kerr taught in the Wellesley Public Schools until her retirement in 1976. During that time, she organized and took her fifth-grade class on a trip to Mt. Rushmore one year, stopping in places of interest across the United States, and took the next year's class to Washington, D.C., on crutches and in a wheelchair after suffering a broken ankle. At this time, Iris's accomplishments were read and written into the Congressional Record. Many of her Wellesley students have remained in touch with her these many years.

Mrs. Kerr earned her Master's Degree in Education at Boston University in 1954 with a thesis on Gifted Children and was listed in Who's Who In the East. She continued her education with courses at Harvard University, and served as a guest associate professor at the University of Alaska in the summer of 1967.

During periods of illness in Rev. Mr. Kerr's ministry, Mrs. Kerr ably filled their pulpit in addition to her duties as a teacher and a mother. In 1962, Iris, Owen and her mother, Sylvia Israel, served as delegates to the Tenth Annual Methodist Conference in Oslo, Norway.

Mrs. Kerr also fulfilled a lifelong desire (nurtured when she attended the Chautauqua Series in Memphis when she was eight years old) to become a handbell ringer. Mrs. Kerr became one of (at that time) two individual handbell ringers in the New England Guild of Handbell Ringers. Mrs. Kerr's love of ringing handbells led her to handbell concerts across the United States from Maine to Hawaii. She rang her handbells as an individual until suffering a broken arm in 2000.

Beginning in 1975, Rev. Owen Kerr retired to Memphis, MO, where Mrs. Kerr's mother, Sylvia Israel lived. In 1976, Iris joined him. Iris returned to the full-time ministry on September 1, 1982 after Owen's death on April 4, 1981, at the Kahoka Presbyterian Church, where she served as a stated supply until June 30, 1983, when a full-time pastor was called to that church. She was recalled as a temporary supply to that pulpit on April 1, 1986 and served in the position until her death on December 4, 2002. She filled the pulpit on Sunday, December 1, 2002. While Iris was at the Kahoka Presbyterian Church, the church in Kahoka, MO, reroofed the church, sided the church, remodeled the church fellowship room, and installed an elevator which served all three levels of the church. One of Iris' greatest prides was the mission work accomplished by the members of the Kahoka Presbyterian Church including bandage rolling, Festival of Sharing giving, the Heifer Project, Habitat For Humanity, the Food Pantry, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Gideon's, gifts to Missouri Union Presbytery and support of a candidate for the ministry.

Mrs. Kerr served as former vice-president of the Clark County Ministerial Association and served as Baccalaureate speaker for the Clark County class of 2002, was active in Women of the Church at the Kahoka Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Women, and a member of the Cottage Prayer Group of the Memphis United Methodist Church. She was a lifetime member of the National Education Association.

In addition to her preaching and teaching, Iris was well-known as a handbell ringer, a strong, supportive person, and as the driver of a yellow convertible who made an annual trek around the Memphis Square to announce the first day of spring whether the weather was sunny, rainy or snowy.

God is good in that during the last week of her life, Iris was able to preach the Sunday service at Kahoka, MO, join the Country Club Christmas party, host the Cottage Prayer group on Monday morning, play cards with friends and her daughter on Monday evening, and host the Bazaar committee on Tuesday afternoon prior to her death on Wednesday morning. To those who are left to mourn, Advent remains the time for us to prepare ourselves for the joy of God's greatest gift to us.

In accordance with her long-standing, stated desire, Mrs. Kerr has given her body (as did Owen) to the University of Missouri for research. A memorial service will be held at the Memphis Presbyterian Church on her 92nd birthday on Tuesday, December 17, 2002. Memorials may be made to the Kahoka Presbyterian Church or the Memphis Presbyterian Church Elevator Fund.

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