Know Your Neighbors: Lisa Kerle Triumphs in the Face of Adversity in Her Journey of Life
This story is part of our Know Your Neighbors series. If there’s a person in our community that you think we should spotlight, reach out to us and tell us why.
Born in 1970, Lisa is the daughter of Jim and Sandy Anthony; she grew up in what she called a “modest” household in the New Bethlehem area.
Reflecting on her childhood, Lisa told exploreClarion.com, “Our parents provided everything we needed. Most importantly, just the love and support that children need. We might not have had the newest and shiniest items.”
The most important quality her parents instilled in her was generosity, she emphasized.
“My parents would help anyone,” Lisa said. “They were very resourceful and would help anyone in need. My dad and my mom instilled that in us.”
One of Lisa’s most admirable qualities is triumphing in the face of adversity.
Her anecdotes served as the roadmap of her journey to how she became a successful as well as influential woman in Clarion County.
Some might say her story started out ordinary.
According to Lisa, she was quiet and reserved in high school. While she did well in school, she lacked in the extra-curricular department due to the challenges any “one-car family” faces.
Lisa Anthony graduated from Redbank Valley in 1988 and then attended Clarion University to pursue a real estate degree.
That’s where things started to get not-so-ordinary.
She decided to leave college to enter the workforce at the Clarion Hospital and then moved onto a few other employers.
In 1996 she met Tom Kerle through mutual friends. By 1998, Lisa and Tom were married and settled in Wentlings Corner, Clarion County. They welcomed daughter Jennifer in 1999 and son Tanner in 2001.
Lisa began working in the accounting and sales department for Tom’s family business, known as Major Brand Tire in Knox.
Unexpectedly, her career path altered due to a simple spaghetti dinner.
“My aunt approached me to do a fundraiser for a family member who had leukemia, so I said ‘Yeah, let’s figure this out,’” Lisa explained. “And, we did a spaghetti dinner. After that dinner, John (Kerle) and I were talking, and we decided to form a non-profit that would help those families or individuals who kind of fall in the cracks of state or federal help, whether they’re just over an income guideline or experiencing hardship.”
In November 2002, Lisa and her father-in-law, John Kerle, launched Charitable Deeds & Services (CDS), a non-profit 501(c)3 company, which is still active to this day.
Before the organization expanded, Lisa coordinated spaghetti dinners every month.
She continued to run CDS while working at the tire shop and trying to further her knowledge of accounting by taking classes from online universities.
Then, in 2008, her life was turned upside down when her husband, Tom, passed away unexpectedly to suicide. He was 50 years old.
“When that happened, I immediately decided not to go to school, I was so overwhelmed with what was happening,” Lisa recounted.
She explained the challenges she quickly faced with a seven- and a nine-year-old at home.
A while after Tom’s death, a couple in the neighborhood had a conversation with Lisa and convinced her to go to school full-time while they helped out with her children.
“They were worried about me and making sure, mentally, that I was doing well with everything that was happening,” Lisa said.
She took their advice and went back into a classroom full-time on the then-Clarion University campus in the fall of 2008 as she also moved to Clarion Borough.
“I couldn’t stay in (Wentlings Corners) after what happened,” she said.
She spent the next three years driving a seemingly endless cycle from her home to campus, to her children’s schools, back and forth.
“I would go to class, be on campus most of the day, pick the kids up, and I would become mom again from 3 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m.,” she recalled. “And, then I would stay up and do homework from about 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., maybe 2 a.m., and sleep and start the whole cycle over again at 7 a.m. the next day.”
After graduating, she worked as a consultant with TerraWorks while she worked to repair her life, focusing on the mental health of not only herself but also her children and those around the community.
“I had such a strong support with family and friends that I could never repay any of them,” Lisa explained.
She eventually moved back to New Bethlehem Borough—a couple of houses down from Mayor Rev. Dr. Gordon Barrows, who indicated there was an open position in the borough. At the time, Lisa was revered for her work with CDS and community events through various churches and schools in Clarion County.
“My husband was so generous, financially, he was able to do that for the school and church. But, I saw the importance of, ‘Okay, that’s great that you’re donating, but they need some bodies,’” she chuckled. “Financial support for any organization is always needed and appreciated, but sometimes, just the manpower and a body is what is needed. And, I enjoyed it.”
She worked for the borough until she was appointed to council by Mayor Barrow in 2015, and she won her election the following term.
“I enjoy helping people and finding a solution for their problems,” Lisa said. “I’m always able to submerge myself easily when something needs to be done. I wish more people understood the importance of local government. This past election, the importance of our midterm elections that were all policymakers by our actions or inactions when we show up or don’t show up to help elect local officials in your municipalities or your school boards.”
Lisa added, “State government affects all of us, but those local elections are what really affect our day-to-day where we live.”
As life continued, Lisa said she met Donna Oberlander on a flag football field somewhere with one of their sons tackling the other.
She connected through the years with Oberlander through former State Representative Fred McIlhattan, a close family friend of Lisa.
“I was involved politically with her campaign, and I would help carry petitions in New Bethlehem,” she explained. “She and I finally connected when she had an opening in her office in 2019. She asked if I was interested in visiting with her, and she thought I would be a really good fit for the office.”
After a brief conversation and visit with Donna Oberlander, Lisa said they “both thought it was a really good fit,” and she has now worked nearly five years as an outreach consultant for Oberlander’s office.
In 2020, Lisa was named New Bethlehem Borough Council president and also serves as Chairwoman of the Redbank Valley Municipal Authority.
But, how? How did a single mom of two, devastated by an unexpected death while obtaining multiple degrees, climb her way in the political food chain in the county?
“One of the things I learned after my husband passed, the support systems that we are all able to form, you can never have too many cheerleaders in your corner,” she said.
Lisa then took a moment, and stated she was “going to be open because no one should be ashamed of taking care of their mental health.”
“That means talking to a friend, talking to a pastor, or whatever religious affiliation you have—or don’t have—counseling,” she urged. “Reach out to those people.”
Lisa says she benefits from a life coach and other counseling these days.
Before the interview was over, I asked Lisa to give her younger self a bit of advice.
“I would tell my younger self to just take the chance,” she said. “Just always take the chance, because if you fail, you can redo, you can try again. Always just go for it.”
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