Kerndt Monument Works celebrating 65 years in business this year as the next generation of family assumes management

Passing the torch ... In celebrating its 65-year anniversary this year, Kerndt Monument Works is now being managed by the next generation of the John and Lorna Kerndt family, as their youngest daughter and her husband, Kristi and Robert Campbell, are now managing the monument portion of the long-standing business. Pictured above, left to right, are: Front row - Lorna and John Kerndt; Back row - Robert and Kristi Kerndt Campbell. Submitted photo.

Serving families for 65 years ... Kerndt Monument Works is celebrating 65 years in business this year. After originating in 1957 on Rossville Road in downtown Waukon when John Kerndt purchased Roggensack Monument, the business was first moved to West Main Street in Waukon before then being moved to the Kerndt home on Ninth Street NW in Waukon (pictured above) in 1966 before being moved to its current location on Rossville Road in south Waukon (pictured below) in 2008. Submitted photo.

by Lissa Blake

After 65 years in business, Kerndt Monument Works in Waukon is under new management as the next generation of the family becomes involved in the management of the business.

Owner John Kerndt, who started the company, is handing over the torch of one of the oldest continually-operating family businesses in Waukon to his youngest daughter and son-in-law, Kristi and Robert Campbell. Kristi and Robert will operate the monument side of the business, but John will remain within the cemetery aspect of the business, where he will continue to update markers with additional names, dates, etc.

It was 1957 when John Kerndt purchased the Roggensack Monument business from Vera Roggensack and her son, Dick. It had been located in the building that now houses the State Farm Insurance office on Rossville Road.
E.J. Roggensack started the business in Lansing in 1894 and moved it to Waukon in 1920. The Roggensack family owned the business for 63 years before selling it to John Kerndt.

A 1953 graduate of St. Patrick High School, as a young man John worked at Cod Brandt’s DX service station in Waukon, Jack’s Diner, Elmer Johnson’s Pontiac Garage and Dutch Goepel’s GX service station. After graduation, he worked for Harry Theis in his men’s clothing store until he went to work for the Roggensacks in 1954.

After two-and-a-half years of learning the monument business, Kerndt purchased it from the Roggensacks and renamed it Kerndt Monument Works. The same year, he moved his business to a new building that Keith Mason had built on West Main Street. He shared the space with Keith Mason’s Auto Repair and Tom Lydon’s Electric Motor Shop.

“We each had a third of the building. It worked out well for us. When Tom Lydon moved his shop, Duane Wedo moved in with his feed store, and when Keith quit the car repair business, Gordy Anderson moved in with his auto repair business,” recounted Kerndt in a Standard newspaper article printed several years ago.

In 1966, the business was moved to the Kerndts’ home on Ninth Street NW in Waukon, where John and Lorna Kerndt raised their family.

“I didn’t realize how important it was that Lorna was always home and that the shop was always attended there, until we moved to this building. She was 24-hour help,” said John.
In 2008, Kerndt Monument Works moved to its present location at 608 Rossville Road, the former site of the Empire Gas Company.

Kristi said she and Robert are thrilled to be able to carry on the family business and reflected about growing up around it.

“I always liked the idea that my father purchased the business from the Roggensacks, and that the families are still very close,” she said.

She said her whole life, she remembers knowing how important the month of May was for the family business.

“The month of May was always super crazy … you never knew what the weather was going to be like. Either you were in the cemeteries early or had to wait until they dried out. But you always knew Memorial Day was the deadline and that it was important to a lot of families,” said Kristi.

Kristi, who grew up loving to visit with people, has owned and operated Kristi’s Style Salon for 34 years. “I seem to have a good thing going, so why not take on another challenge?” she said.

Her husband, Robert, worked for the City of Waukon for 38 years as the water and wastewater superintendent. “He was ready for something different. He has been here since July of 2018 and is loving it!” said Kristi.

Kristi works at Kerndt Monument Works Mondays and Wednesday afternoons, so she can manage the office while the others are working in the cemeteries. “Robert and my brother, Tom, are still doing the poured footings and settings of the monuments,” she said.

The Kerndt family orders their monuments from their primary suppliers located in St. Cloud, MN, Elberton, GA and Blaire, VT. Many of them are originally created overseas.

“Everything is now done on computers. We have the latest colors of granite and all the technologies, from laser to etching and lifelike pictures,” Kristi said.

Now 83, John Kerndt is still hard at work, as he continues to do the date cutting on the monuments in the cemeteries as well as on other local installments, such as the donor wall at Veterans Memorial Hospital, commemorative bricks at the Waukon City Park, the Veterans Memorial bricks at the Allamakee County Courthouse, and the memorial wall at the New Albin Community Center.

Kerndt Monument Works also has worked on projects at East Elementary, Waukon High School, and the golf course, in addition to war memorials in Waukon, New Albin and Clermont.

Kristi said as she has watched her father try to keep everything going over the years, she realized it is something Robert and she could help him with.

“I knew it was hard for him to keep trying to do it all, and I thought this would be something for my husband and I to keep going, and that my father would be proud that things are going to keep running as usual. He has enjoyed it so much. He has such a knack for ideas, and that is something I wish I had the way he does … He is a very creative person,” she said. “Robert and I are excited to keep the legacy of Kerndt Monument going.”

Kerndt said, “I’m really happy to see the business stay open. It’s something we really need here.”

He added he has enjoyed serving multiple generations of families in and outside the area. “I’ve placed monuments in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Georgia, Kansas, and North and South Dakota and more,” he said.

John and his wife, Lorna (Severson), have been married for 65 years. They have three sons, John, Tom and Craig, all of whom worked with the business at some time. Tom still works for the company on a regular basis. The Kerndts also have two daughters, Kari Hammel and Kristi.

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