Vern and his “Contraption”

Vern Krohn was the guy with the "contraption," and that was the first thing people at the Lake Merritt peace walk remembered about him when news came that he’d passed away, at the age of 87. His contraption was a huge sign mounted on a small cart and was painted in large letters that passing motorists could read from a block or two up the street. "HONK FOR PEACE!" it read.

It was certainly the most visible of our signs and banners, and visibility was crucial to the success of our weekly peace walk around Lake Merritt. Nevertheless, it was a heavy and awkward thing to be dragging along. The walk is about three miles. The lakeshore could get pretty windy on some days, and the contraption used to blow over a lot.

"We had our differences about the damn sign contraption that Vern built," says Ken. "But it got us a lot of honks and attention."

"We used to piss and moan about that contraption," says Sandi and her husband who often walked the lake with him and helped schlep the heavy contraption along sidewalks and over curbs at crosswalks. "But we enjoyed his energy and his dedication and we loved him and will miss him."

Even as we complained about the cumbersome object, we admired his chutzpah for building such a thing and hauling it out to the lake each week.

"I walked with Vern around the lake many times," recalls Nina. "He was exceeding quiet and modest. It was after some probing that I found out that he had invented and created the honk for peace contraption. He was not proprietary about it, letting anyone who wanted to have the fun of strolling it—never indicating it was ‘his.’ But at the end of the walk, it was he who took responsibility for it."

"I think that Vern’s life should be a model for all of us," says Ken . "Vern was always out there against the war, no matter how old he got, I was often amazed that he could survive going around the lake, by the end he was always so tired."

"It’s people like Vern. He was always an inspiration," says Jeff, another familiar face at the lake. "I’m getting older now and I wake up in the morning with a bunch of aches and pains. I had a lot of weeks where I didn’t feel like going to the peace walk. Then I’d think to myself, ‘Well, that Vern fellow is 87 and he’s bound to have some ailments as well. He’s 30 years older than I am.’ Vern was always there and he’d bring that great big sign to boot. It was a heavy thing. He’d bring it every week and I think it took him a major effort to load it into his vehicle and bring it to the Lake Merritt colonnade where we started the walk."

Jeff also remembers him for his stories. "He would talk to me in this crusty voice, and tell me about his experiences. He knew a lot about history that I had only a vague familiarity with. The depression, and stuff before World War I."

An early memory Vern shared with Steve was that as a small child shortly after the First World War he asked his mother, "What was all the shooting about?" "Not about anything that makes much sense," his mother explained.

"Vern told others and me a lot of good stories," says Ken. "My favorite was about his father who was with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders when they took over Cuba, and then got sent to the Philippines as part of the force that quelled the uprising there when the U.S. betrayed the independence movement in the Philippines. Vern’s father’s officers told him, ‘Never stick your saber in more than six inches, because you will not be able to get it out of them.’"

Vern was born September 27, 1916, and he told us that in the 1930’s in Galion, Ohio he’d been a political protégé of Bishop William Montgomery Brown. Vern was a machinist and a strong union man. "Here in Oakland, he was active for many years in the Fellowship of Humanity over on 28th Street," Carl says. "In our conversation, I expressed appreciation for the work of that organization over the years." Another member of the group, Sandina, remembers that her father had also been in the Fellowship of Humanity and an old friend of Vern’s.

Vern Krohn was a person who spent his life in political activism, and that’s how we’ll remember him. Barbara spoke for many of us when she said, "Bless his heart! Sorry to see him go, but you know, that’s how I would want to go—an activist right up to the end, out there with my signs and banners."

Daniel Borgström
January 2004

The peace walk takes place 3 o'clock every Sunday; rain or shine, summer & winter, till the war's over.
We meet at the Colonnade, near Lakeshore Ave. & Highway 580
Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace (LMNOP)