By: Kayla McCloud
“Congratulations on being selected as an Honorary Blue Angel. The entire team is delighted to continue our association and friendship in a special way. Your reputation for excellence, selflessness, dedication, and service with honor is noted with admiration and pride…As an Honorary Blue Angel, we consider you a member of our team and look forward to sharing this experience together.”
These words changed Ken Jernigan’s life forever.
The quote above is from the United States Navy Blue Angels New Honorary Blue Angel Officer Briefing that was sent to Ken Jernigan (West Florida ‘69). The Blue Angels have been around for 76 years and have given this sacred title only to 55 individuals. These 55 individuals were given a framed presentation that highlights their selection; they are able to attend Blue Angel pilot flight briefs and debriefs, they are allowed access to one vehicle space and specific seating at a Blue Angel air show, if an “8-man photo” is offered they are invited to be in the picture, and they are able to wear the Blue Angels crest.
Ken Jernigan was born and raised in the home area of the Blue Angels in Pensacola, Florida. He didn’t know that growing up near the facility would benefit him someday and lead him to experiences that would stick with him for a lifetime.
Ken attended Escambia High School and enjoyed playing golf and being present in his science classes. He had the desire to pursue biology after high school; the idea of becoming a Dentist intrigued him. He attended the University of West Florida and graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology.
In college, Ken spent most of his time studying and playing golf. He was also interested in a local fraternity at Pensacola Junior College called Phi Alpha Epsilon, which was established by the 14 founding fathers: David Blazon, John Cobb, Bob England, Richard Freeman, David Gonzalez, Tom Gunter, Joachim Hoewt, Bill Kenter, Harold Key, Jerry Mock, David Palm, Randy Peacock, Dominic Randal Rowland, George Wilkinson. He hung out with many of the founding fathers, attended all the meetings, and continued building friendships with the men. The members of Phi Alpha Epsilon knew they wanted to be a part of something bigger, and for them, it was SAE. The official installation of Florida Sigma was held on January 27, 1973. Ken Jernigan helped this process and was initiated into the Delta pledge class on September 15, 1973.
Through Ken’s SAE membership, he “wore every hat.” He held the Little Sister’s Keeper position, reminding the girls of their responsibilities and ensuring they felt comfortable in their roles. Most of the time, the “little sisters” came around to cook and clean. Ken has been the local Alumni Association Secretary, President, and member of the local House Corporation. For his years of service, Ken received the Distinguished Service Award in 2009. He tries his best to attend the SAE Third Thursday events and any national events. For the last 45 years, he has played a big role in the SAE National Amateur Golf Tournament, serving as the head of the committee and as a committee member. The golf tournament was founded in 1978 by a committee of SAEs and led by Bobby England (University of West Florida ‘70), and Ken loves being a part of this experience with his fellow brothers.
“My favorite part about being an SAE is the brotherhood. I am an only child, so joining an organization with true gentlemen to interact with has been wonderful,” Ken says. “We have great, memorable times together. We eat lunch, fish, hunt, and attend charity events. It’s about sharing common interests with important people around you, and I’m so thankful to have my brothers for life.”
As Ken navigated his SAE membership, he was torn about his career choices and what would come next. Dental school did not work out for him, so he had to think of something else to fulfill his passion. He returned to school for another year to get his credentials to become a high school science and biology teacher. He attended night courses to stay on his career path and even attended the University of West Florida to get his master’s in Education, graduating in 1971. He taught at his own Escambia High School for seven years, from 1969 to 1976.
After a frightening incident occurred during teaching, Ken left the teaching field and decided to pursue something else. He worked closely with his colleagues during his teaching career on yearbooks and found an interest in doing something along those lines. From 1976 to 1987, Ken worked as a sales associate at Herff Jones, a graduation supply company specializing in yearbooks, class rings, and graduation supplies across Florida’s panhandle. During this time, Ken also started his own business, Kenneth E. Jernigan and Associates.
Kenneth E. Jernigan Associates has provided quality merchandise to Fraternities, Sororities, Honor Societies, and Professional Organizations since 1976. They specialize in official jewelry, membership certificates, plastic membership cards, regalia, and other personalized items. Ken enjoys working alongside fraternities and sororities because it reminds him of his own fraternal experience through Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
The Blue Angels team knew of Ken Jernigan and the quality of his work. They contacted him, hoping he would work with them to create a team yearbook. Although the project did not come to fruition, they still wanted to work closely with Ken and asked if they could collaborate on recognition jewelry pieces. Ken met the pilots and team members through this close partnership and instantly clicked with them. He met their families and spent a lot of time with each and every one of them daily. He even met two fellow SAE members, Kevin Park Colling (Colorado School of Mines ‘89) and Major Matthew Shortal (University of Illinois ‘94). Matt was a United States Marine Corps pilot on the team from 2005-2006. Unfortunately, Kevin passed away in an airshow mishap at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia in 1999. Phi Alpha, brothers.
Typically, the Blue Angels team is stationed at their squadron in Pensacola for work for about two to three years. They settle down near NAS Pensacola with their families and fly out for winter training in El Centro, California, for almost three months. While the Blue Angels team is away, the families who stay back must navigate their new life and learn about the surrounding areas. Because Ken is a local and grew up in the beautiful area, he has been a great resource and asset to the families.
Ken likes to share many stories about helping out the team’s families. Various people have called him for help, from restaurant recommendations to house or car issues. He always has a connection with someone in the community and is easily accessible. These are just some of the many things Ken does out of the kindness of his own heart.
The Blue Angels noticed the generous things Ken was doing. Not only did he take care of the families while the pilots were gone, but he would also come to the Blue Angel squadron and help the team in various ways. He spent a lot of time in the Public Affairs Office with Paul Archer, Chief Mass Communication Specialist. Ken helped the team to create Blue Angel recognition pieces. When Ken was around, he made it a personal goal to get to know everyone and be a helping hand.
“Working in the Blue Angels Public Affairs shop, we have the pleasure of working very closely with Ken Jernigan all the time. He is a vital friend to all who serve with the team,” Paul Archer says.
In 1997, the Blue Angels team met to discuss Ken Jernigan becoming number 46 honorary, all because of his selfless contributions to the team and the families. His name was brought forward because they thought he deserved the Honorary Blue Angel title. Boss George Dom was the flight leader then. The team’s past flight surgeon, Bryan Buchanan, remembered that day like yesterday. “I remember when Boss Dom asked us to think of nominating Honoraries. He stressed that we didn’t need to nominate anyone at all. The most important thing was that if we selected anyone, he/she should be someone truly deserving of the honor, not just a buddy. Someone who can pull strings, not just a golf deal hookup,” Bryan says. Once they agreed it would be Ken, they worked on getting a plaque together with the official recognition. Ken was asked to enter the Reddy Room upstairs in the Blue Angels squadron. Not many people have been given this opportunity to enter the room because of the sacred Blue Angel memorabilia, so when Ken was asked to enter, he was immediately blown away. Boss Dom, Scooter Moyer, Bryan Buchanan, and the other officers were waiting there with his Honorary Blue Angel plaque.
Scooter Moyer had become great friends with Ken over the years before Ken was recognized and chosen. He knew Ken deserved this title. “When I first came along, everyone on the team talked about this local guy who supports the team and how he was the nicest gentlemen and really helped out the spouses and families,” Scooter says. “The coolest part about knowing Ken before he received Honorary Blue Angel and after is that nothing about him changed. He continued to help and contribute in the same way he did before. He is as good as it gets.”
Jonathan Fay, current Executive Officer of the Blue Angels, has had nothing but good things to say about Ken. Something Jon enjoys most about Ken is the annual bowling event he puts on. Usually, in February or March, Ken plans a bowling event and invites all spouses and children to come and hang out while the pilots are gone for training. This is a great way for Ken to get to know the families better and help them enjoy their time in Pensacola. “Ken always knows somebody and is always willing to help. He contributes his time and doesn’t expect anything in return. He’s really good like that,” Jon says.
Ken continued to serve the team in the best way possible. He’d show up to the squadron to greet the team when they left to head to California and returned from their training. He attended as many shows as he could on his own dime. He would escort the spouses and families to and from their cars and the show seating on a golf cart. Anything he could do to take the weight off someone’s shoulders was done without question.
In 2018, another similar conversation occurred about Ken’s honorable behavior between the team at the time and Boss Eric Doyle. They knew giving him the Honorary Blue Angel title was essential, but it wasn’t enough. The Honorary Boss title is the highest recognition you can obtain. There have only been 12 individuals to receive Honorary Boss, and only two of them are still living today; Ken Jernigan and Wayne Boggs. Wayne Boggs was selected in 2022 as an Air Boss that the Blue Angels Team now recognizes as an Honorary Boss.
The mission of the Blue Angels is to “showcase the teamwork and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps through flight demonstrations and community outreach while inspiring a culture of excellence and service to the country.” In order to be an Honorary Boss, one must uphold their mission and the values that come with it. Boss Doyle brought up the question of truly being an Honorary Boss in their team discussion. His mind kept wandering to Ken. Someone who effortlessly is a good person. Someone who loves and cherishes the team in every aspect. Someone who has a good, kind heart. Nominating Ken for the highest recognition was the right thing to do, so they did. At the end of the Blue Angels season in November, they usually do a practice show and a real show on a weekend to celebrate the season and their wonderful accomplishments. The last event was hosted in downtown Pensacola at Seville Quarter. During the last event, the current boss introduces next year’s team because they get right back to work after the weekend. The former team members show up to discuss their year and what will come next. This event was particularly special because Ken was given his award in front of everyone in attendance. He had no idea his name was even called until his wife Carole nudged him to walk up to the stage.
“It was super fun to announce, especially because Ken had no idea. It’s one of my favorite memories I have of him. He’s not just around to serve the Blue Angels, but he prioritizes serving everyone else, and that’s just one of the many reasons we named him Boss Ken Jernigan,” Boss Doyle says.
On November 6, 2019, Ken got the opportunity to go on a “VIP” jet ride with Boss Doyle. This was a nice way for the team to thank him for all the years he has contributed to the Blue Angels and what he will still do going forward.
Ken has taken on the opportunity to preserve the Blue Angel’s history and heritage. He has copies of various historical publications and printed materials for safekeeping. In his house, he has one of their team yearbooks from 1969 and every yearbook following 1976.
Ken and Thomas Frosch serve on the Blue Angels Association Team together. Tom is the President, and Ken is the Honorary Liaison for honorary members. They meet quarterly and discuss ways they can help the team and the families through communal and Blue Angel activities. This is a great way for them to give back. Tom Frosch joined the team in 2012 and was a flight leader from 2013 to 2015. He got to know Ken after he became Honorary Blue Angel and wished he had documented all of the amazing things Ken had done. “Ken is the kind of guy that doesn’t look for recognition when he does something. He stands in the back and doesn’t care for the spotlight. I’m proud of him,” Tom says.
Boss Ken Jernigan, “Boss” J. Those titles have unique meaning to them. He is proud to represent the Blue Angels in that way and loves every aspect of it. Although Ken was announced as “Honorary Boss,” no one calls him “Honorary.” He is such a well-respected member of the community and a critical component of this team that every Blue Angel, both former and active, calls him “Boss.” “It is hard to put into words what the Blue Angel team means to me. The feeling I have knowing I am trusted, respected, and appreciated is incredible. Getting to know each member and knowing they’re the best of the best, along with their families, is indescribable. People would give anything to do the things that I get to do, and I am extremely proud of where I am in life with them,” Boss Ken Jernigan says.