Jack Kerner knows the value of having a good support staff.
For 25 years he played a pivotal role for St. Bonaventure basketball, keeping the score book for both the men’s and women’s teams. His job was to keep track not only of points but fouls, substitutions, time outs – all the little things that make a basketball game flow.
Now retired, Jack and his wife, Mary, have moved into a different support role – helping their nephew, Michael Brunner, through a blood and marrow transplant at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Mike needed a caregiver but I said we come as a team,” Jack said. “We’re old enough where we’re not going to do it alone. She’ll do the cooking and I’ll do the driving.”
But they’ve been a team well before Mary’s nephew needed caregivers.
The two are mainstays at St. Bonaventure basketball games ever since Jack got a side job working the scorer’s table first for women’s games then for both men’s and women’s games.
A teacher at Allegany High School, Jack had been running the clock at high school games when the school’s athletic director, Art Mohagen asked if he’d be interested in working the college games at St. Bonaventure.
“I went down and checked it out and maybe I was the only one interested,” Jack said.
Funny thing is, Jack was never an athlete. Didn’t play sports in high school. Didn’t attend many St. Bonaventure basketball games when he was a student. But that lack of intimate knowledge allowed him to focus on his task rather than get caught up in the passion of the game.
“All of a sudden, I’m on the floor and I really know nothing about the game of basketball,” Jack said. “It wasn’t my job. My job was to keep the record of what was going on. It was probably good for me to not get real involved. They were taking about defenses and box-and-one. I wouldn’t know a box-and-one from a boxed lunch. But that was good because I didn’t get into the game. I could concentrate on what I was doing.”
“But he was a math teacher and he’s a real numbers person,” added Mary, who attended every basketball game Jack worked as a fan. “So I think he was really perfect for that.”
The couple from Olean found their way to Kevin Guest House through the social work department at Roswell. They knew there was some connection to St. Bonaventure, but never quite new what it was until they found themselves at the grand Victorian on Ellicott Street. Several members of the founding family, the Garveys, are St. Bonaventure graduates including board member Tom Garvey who was a student at Bonas when his youngest brother, Kevin, died from leukemia. That experience prompted his parents, Cyril and Claudia, to create the healthcare hospitality house in Kevin’s memory.
“We had heard about them, but never met any of them,” Mary said. “What a story about living your Franciscan values!”
It was January of 2019 when Jack and Mary arrived in Buffalo to help Mary’s nephew, Mike, through a stem cell harvest at Roswell Park to be used for an autologous transplant. Mike’s sessions began at 7:30 a.m. and would last until about 1:30. Then he would need to return to the hospital again at 8 p.m. The treatments lasted a week and to drive from Olean to Buffalo each day would be exhausting.
The recently opened Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House on the Kevin Guest House campus proved to be the perfect spot for both Mike, the patient, and Jack and Mary, the caregivers.
“When Mike comes back, he spends all of his time sleeping. It’s beneficial for him to recover,” Jack said. “And we can get out of his face because you’ve got a helicopter uncle and aunt here and he doesn’t like that. He’s an independent person and all of a sudden his life is turned upside down and you’ve got us two hovering.
“But at the Salvatore house, we can leave him in the bedroom to sleep. We can go down to the main dining room and watch television or the best thing is the basement with the media room. We’ve been watching a lot of movies or just go down there to read and veg out. It’s really nice to have that separation.”
Aside from the conveniences of location, laundry, meals and space, the interaction with other patients and caregivers has been a key for the Kerners who have been able to pick up tips, suggestions, and most importantly, encouragement.
“The other good feature is that there are always people around and many of them are in the same situation that you’re facing with family members,” Mary said. “Just talking with them and hearing their experiences, it gives you a lot of reassurance. It’s just helpful to know what’s facing you.”