Joe Kearns was born and educated in Campbellsville, Kentucky. He attended two years at Campbellsville Jr. College, and then entered UK’s College of Engineering. After two years, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956 and served most of his two years of military time in Europe. Upon his discharge, he returned to UK and graduated in 1960 with a BS in civil engineering. Upon graduation, he began working at the Transportation Cabinet in District Six and spent the rest of his career of 39 years and 4 months in that district.
He held positions in construction, materials, maintenance, operations, and planning. In 1983 he was promoted to Chief District Engineer (CDE) and held that position until he retired in 1999. In the five years prior to his tenure as CDE, there had been five different officials in that position. He held the job for 16 years–longer than any other chief district engineer in Kentucky’s 12 district offices. During his years at District Six, Mr. Kearns helped build I-75 from scratch; then rebuilt the highway in the 1990s. In his position as Chief District Engineer, he oversaw more than 300 employees at offices in the district’s 11 counties. He allowed his assistants to make decisions, but he was always there if they needed help. Also, he was always willing to do what he could for the people in the area. An elderly lady complained about the noise from the large trucks on the highway near her home. The state maintenance crews made some repairs to the rough sections of roadway but the noise persisted. Mr. Kearns personally visited the lady, sat on her front porch for nearly 30 minutes and listened to the roadway noise with her so he could figure out what to do to eliminate the problem.
Grant County Judge/Executive Carol Woodyard said, “He is truly dedicated to the people of this district and to the Department of Transportation and to this wonderful Commonwealth in listening to the ideas and suggestions from all, and then determining the very best solution for all concerned.” Mr. Kearns is a licensed Professional Engineer, Land Surveyor, and member of the National Association of Professional Engineers. He currently lives in Florence with his wife, Joan.