Esther Cole Kernodle, 106, of Elon, NC, died of COVID-19 February 2, 2021, peacefully in her home in Elon, NC.
Esther was born February 10, 1914, in Sibley, Illinois to Aurell Pendelton “O’Kelly” Cole and Wilhelmina Augusta Pommerening Cole, spent her first years in Chicago, and moved to Durham, NC at the age of seven. She attended the Durham City Schools, graduating from Durham High School. Esther received a B.A. degree from Elon College in 1936, where she majored in English and French. She also studied piano, voice, and public school music. For the remainder of her life, Elon College (now University) held a special place in her heart, and a student leadership scholarship is established there in her name and her husband’s. Esther later taught English, French, and public school music in the Durham City Schools, the Alamance County Schools, and the Burlington City Schools for 10 years. In addition, she pursued graduate study in religion at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.
It was at Elon College where she met and married her husband, Dr. John Robert Kernodle, Sr. After his completion of medical school and service in the US Army during World War II, they moved to Burlington, NC where he established his medical practice and where they reared two children, John Robert, Jr. and Ann Cole.
Always active in church work on a local, state, and national level, Esther was a long-time member of First Christian United Church of Christ in Burlington where she taught Sunday School for over 50 years. After moving to Elon in 1996, she transferred her membership to Elon Community United Church of Christ. Esther was a descendant of James O’Kelly who founded the Christian Church in the South in 1794. His Essay on Negro Slavery published in 1789 is recognized as one of the earliest anti-slavery treatises written by an American clergyman. In her quiet and persistent way, Esther followed in his footsteps exhibiting great strength both in the 1957 merger of the Congregational-Christian Church and the Evangelical Reformed Church as the United Church of Christ and in her dedicated work with others to integrate the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ. She was also active in Church Women United.
Esther was active as well in the life of the community, participating in the Medical Auxiliary and the Burlington Music Club among other endeavors. Music played a special role in her life. She was often asked to sing in her church for worship services, weddings, and funerals. She attended as many concerts as possible in the community at large and especially at Elon University. Esther always attempted to share her love of music with others, and in her later life provided for music lessons for young musicians.
Esther is remembered as a faithful wife and as a loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, mother-in-law, and as a loyal friend to many. She was predeceased by her husband, Dr. John Robert Kernodle, Sr.; her son, John Robert Kernodle, Jr.; and her daughter, Ann Cole Kernodle Umstead. She is survived by three grandchildren: Alexandra Umstead-Wrenn, her son Devon, her husband Jonathan and his children Chase and Emma; Ashley B. Umstead; and John Robert Kernodle, III. She is also survived by a great granddaughter, Kaitlyn Florence Umstead. In addition, she is survived by daughter-in-law, Lynn Wright-Kernodle, and son-in-law, Alex B. Umstead.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Esther’s memory can be made to the John Robert Kernodle, Jr. Scholarship Fund with the Greater Greensboro Community Foundation, Well-Spring Solutions where Ann Kernodle Umstead directed its component, the Adult Center for Enrichment in Greensboro, the Kernodle Center for Civic Life at Elon University, Elon Community United Church of Christ, First Christian Church of Burlington, the Kernodle Senior Center in Burlington, or to another charitable organization of one’s choice.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and knowing Esther would want those she loved to be safe, there will not be a memorial service at this time. Her family looks forward to gathering together when it is safe to do so for a celebration of Esther’s life.
Condolences can be sent to the family c/o Lynn Wright-Kernodle, 303 West Bessemer Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27401. Rich and Thompson Funeral Home and Alamance Memorial Park are assisting the family. The family wishes to thank Comfort Keepers of Greensboro and all of the caregivers, especially the team which saw her through her hardest final years, and who made it possible for Esther to remain, as she always wished, in her home until the time of her death.
Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
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