“Friends for Folks”
John Otto, D.V.M.
Dr. Otto opened the University Animal hospital in Norman in 1995. He has a wife, Patti and two sons and is active in shelter and community service work.
Otto grew up the son of an FBI director and recognized the emotional strain put on kids by having a parent incarcerated from an early age. He saw families torn apart and suffering, which led him to other philanthropic efforts through the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
The veterinarian also helped establish the Guardian Angels program at Mabel Basset and also volunteers with the Friends for Folks program at the LARC. The programs allow offenders serving time at the facilities to train dogs considered unacceptable to prepare them for a home.
Oklahoma’s first Friends for Folks inmate dog training program began in 1990 at the men’s prison in Lexington. Its success, documented in the film “The Dogs of Lexington,” convinced the Department of Corrections to open a second program in January 2014 at Mabel Bassett women’s prison in McLoud, OK. A second film, “Bassett Tales,” premiered on OETA on July 30, 2015.
The Mabel Bassett program, established in 2014, is conducted in hallways, cells and the prison yard, conditions that have greatly challenged the program’s success. Friends for Folks’ ultimate goal is to expand its program into every correctional center in Oklahoma and success at Mabel Bassett is absolutely critical to achieving this goal.
Joe C. Kernke, Jr., son of the co-founder, joined the firm Smith & Kernke in the 1960’s and began management of the funeral home in the 1970’s. Joe C. Kernke, Jr. has spent his career comforting families during their most difficult times. This isn’t a skill he learned naturally—it runs in the family. He spent most of his childhood watching his father, Joe C. Kernke Sr., organize services at their family funeral home. An Oklahoma City resident, Kernke graduated in 1967 from then-Central State University with a bachelor’s degree in funeral service education. Joe Kernke, Sr. passed away before seeing the 17,000-square foot-branch at 14624 North May Avenue open on January 23, 2000. The building lies on 5 acres of land encompassing the funeral home and chapel, which take up two-and-a-half acres. Behind this location is the newly established Ever Faithful Pet Funeral Home and Crematory operated by Joe C. Kernke, Jr’s daughter, Keri Kernke.
The family-owned business is one of the few remaining in Oklahoma county that has not been taken over by a corporate funeral home chain. The family tradition continues as Joe’s son, Todd Kernke joined the firm as a licensed funeral director in 2001.
For over seventy-five years, that dedication to the community has been reflected through service to charitable, civic, and church activities. It is this dedication that has created, truly, the lasting tradition of dignity and service for which Smith & Kernke has become known.
Joe’s current activities include:
Credit Adjustment Company (Advisory Board)
Better Business Bureau (Past President and on Board of Directors)
Rotary Club of Oklahoma City (Club 29 Paul Harris Fellow)
CEO Dinner Club
Committee of 100 (Past President)
Friends for Folks (Past President and on Board of Directors)
Oklahoma City Town Hall (Past President and on Board of Directors)
Joe’s other activities include:
Knights of Columbus Council 1038
Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club
Oklahoma University Alumni Association (Life Time Member)
Leadership Oklahoma City Alumni Association (Past Paragon Award Recipient)
Received Rosary Grade School Distinguished Graduate Award in 2012
Joe’s Honors include:
Paragon Award given by Leadership Oklahoma City for volunteerism with the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma County
Rosary School Distinguished Graduate Award