COEYMANS — Riley Parker Kern will be remembered as a young man with an adventurous spirit, who loved his family and friends, and who lived life to the fullest.
But on July 27, 2018, that life was snuffed out in a motorcycle accident on Route 143 in Coeymans Hollow. Kern died hours later at Albany Medical Center.
While his life was lost too soon — he was 19 — his loved ones have their memories, and now there is a memorial tree, planted in his honor, that will stand the test of time and keep his spirit alive.
A memorial service was held Oct. 13 at Feura Bush Village Park, where a Northern oak was planted in Kern’s honor.
“He was a golden boy. My son was just a good kid,” said his father, Paul Gumpher.
Kern was born in Topeka, Kansas, and spent his youth traveling between Kansas, where his mother lived, and New York, where his father moved when he was little. He attended RCS Middle School, and then spent his first two years at RCS High School before moving back to Kansas to complete his high school education in 2017.
He returned to New York after he graduated to live with his father and was trying to decide his next step in life. He was considering joining the military.
No matter where he was living, Kern was a beacon of light to those around him, loved ones said.
“There was something about Riley — it was his spirit and how carefree he was,” said his mother, Emily Kern. “He didn’t let bad things get him down. He was a happy kid. He loved his friends in New York and he loved his friends in Kansas.”
The cross-country impact Kern had on those around him was evident in the weeks following his death. He was buried in Kansas, and a cohort of friends from the Coeymans and Ravena communities traveled there for the funeral service. And for the memorial service at the Feura Bush park last weekend, a group of Kansas friends traveled across the country to honor him.
“He touched people’s lives,” said his grandmother, Phyllis Wilkes. “Anyone who talked to him for five minutes wanted to be around him. That’s what he was like.”
Kern was an adventurous spirit with a taste for the daring. He was a black belt in Taekwondo, and he loved BMX bikes, motorcycles and skateboarding.
“Anything that can go fast,” Wilkes said of her grandson’s hobbies.
“He was a skater kid,” Gumpher said of his son, who was also interested in photography. “He loved Taekwondo. He fit into this neighborhood like a puzzle piece. He had a lot of friends.”
Many of those friends, along with family members, gathered on a rainy day at the Feura Bush park to memorialize Riley Parker Kern and to celebrate his life. They shared memories, smiles and tears.
The Rev. Harold Vadney conducted the memorial service and spoke of the strength and importance of trees in many religions and cultures. The tree, he said, was a fitting tribute to a young man lost too soon.
“When we come here and see this tree, we will think of Riley,” Vadney said. “We are here to pay our respects to a very special young man.”
He continued, “Like this oak, Riley was strong, yet fragile. While Riley only had 20 years in this life, we will have this oak for many years… and we will always have this connection with Riley.”
At the time of his death, Kern was dating RCS alumna Carly Gill. Her grandmother, Kathleen Gill, said she only met him a few times, but that was enough to take his measure.
“I only met Riley a few times, but there was something about his spirit,” Kathleen Gill said. “He looked younger than he was, and when I first met him I asked if he was in high school yet. He laughed and said he already graduated. He was a happy spirit and always had a smile.”
Dylan Kitzman was one of Kern’s friends who traveled from Topeka, Kansas, to share memories of his friend and to honor him.
“I have known Riley since I can remember,” Kitzman said. “I spent so much time with him. He was a smart guy. It’s sad it took this to bring everyone together.”
Kitzman said he and Kern spent a great deal of time together, “riding bicycles, going to the creek — he was a good guy.”
After the memorial service, Emily Kern spread her son’s favorite tapestry on one of the park’s picnic tables and put out placards promoting safe driving, which read, “Be aware! Look twice! Save a life! Motorcycles are everywhere!” Friends signed the placards, offering prayers, good wishes and memories of the past.
Kern’s motorcycle was struck by an oncoming vehicle on July 27 of this year, at around 6 p.m., according to his mother. She said he was brought to Albany Medical Center by the Ravena Rescue Squad and at 9:30 p.m. that night she received a call in Kansas that he was being rushed into surgery for internal injuries and bleeding.
An hour later she received another call from the hospital. He did not survive the surgery.
Riley Parker Kern’s funeral was held on what would have been his 20th birthday.
Emily Kern and Paul Gumpher say no charges have been filed in connection with the crash that killed their son. They say they have many unanswered questions about the accident, his death, and the aftermath, and will continue to seek answers and closure.
Check back for more on this developing story.