Astronaut Dr. Joseph Kerwin to receive The Monarch Legacy Award at Plymouth Place

August 5, 2022

Astronaut Dr. Joseph Kerwin to receive
The Monarch Legacy Award at Plymouth Place

Celebrating the humanitarian efforts of a local hero.

LA GRANGE PARK, IL –– On Sunday, August 14th, Dr. Joseph Kerwin will be accepting the Monarch Legacy Award at Plymouth Place’s Legacy Tea – an annual event to thank all the donors who support the Plymouth Place mission.

Born and raised in Oak Park, Dr. Kerwin attended Fenwick High School and Northwestern Medical School, where he met his wife, Lee. While completing his first year of residency, he was drafted into the Navy and entered their flight surgeon training program.

After signing on for an additional three years in the Navy, Dr. Kerwin was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, FL. One day, while watching TV with Lee, a national news report announced that NASA was looking for “scientist astronauts” to go to the moon.

“She looked at me and said, ‘You probably want to do that.’ I said, ‘I’m not a scientist but, yeah, I want to do it.’ So, I applied through the Navy and got in. All I had to do was stay out of trouble and pass the physical,” Dr. Kerwin laughed. “All of a sudden, there I was in the astronaut program in Houston, Texas.”

Dr. Kerwin’s accomplishments with NASA are astounding. In 1970, he was one of the capsule communicators on Apollo 13. He was also the first physician in space, serving as the Science Pilot for the Skylab 2 mission in 1973. He and his teammates spent 28 days in space.

“One day on the Skylab mission,” he said, “my colleagues and I were faced with repairing the solar panel. This was our first spacewalk. I got to walk to the highest point of the space station which was pointed right at the sun. The sun was directly overhead, and the earth was directly underneath me – 250 miles below. It was SO beautiful.”

Dr. Kerwin was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997

Dr. Kerwin and Lee enjoyed a long, successful marriage – raising 3 daughters and living in Florida, Australia and Texas.

When Lee’s health started to decline, Dr. Kerwin knew he had to do exactly what she would have done – seek out the best care possible. As a family, they decided her medical needs were beyond what they could provide at home.

Dr. Kerwin noted, “I always knew that wherever I went, Lee was with the kids and manning the station. So, I wanted to do the same for her – to be with her at every point on this final journey.”

Lee moved into Plymouth Place just as the pandemic lockdown occurred. “This was more worrisome than being on Skylab, as I had some control up there – but not here,” said Dr. Kerwin. His fears were soon allayed after coming to Plymouth Place and meeting the leadership team.

“From the moment I met Jay, I knew we had a command central in our midst,” Dr. Kerwin laughed. “This was a place which looked more like a cruise ship than a spaceship. But it required the same tactical prowess and science to protect people during a critical time in their lives.”

“Providing the optimum levels of care at such a critical time requires both a pragmatic and nontraditional approach, one that is client-centered and family-focused,” said Jay Biere, CEO of Plymouth Place. Indeed, Lee’s case defied the typical model of care. Plymouth Place put Lee’s needs above all else, working with the Kerwin family to bring in any additional resources that could supplement her care.

“You may not think of this as rocket science,” Dr. Kerwin continued, “but if you step back and analyze what we did in space and look at what this team did…they found the right spacesuit for Lee and for my family – one that had mobility within a comfort care plan. The plan was adaptable, and it was monitored by trained staff who had the right tools at their disposal at all times.”

In the summer of 2021, surrounded by her family and friends, Shirley (Lee) Kerwin passed from this earth. “I am so lucky to have had three loving daughters and a community like Plymouth Place to surround us,” said Dr. Kerwin.

About Plymouth Place
Based on Christian values, Plymouth Place is the La Grange area’s premier retirement community, offering a choice of outstanding residences for every life and style, the finest in hospitality and amenities, and a full range of care options. For 78 years, Plymouth Place has excelled in the art of helping seniors live a more vibrant, rewarding lifestyle with fellowship, friendship and the security of long-term care.