Honoring the Legacy of A Great Chicagoan and Black Business Giant, Edward G. Gardner Passes Away at 98

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Honoring the Legacy of A Great Chicagoan and Black Business Giant, Edward G. Gardner Passes Away at 98

Edward G. Gardner was a humanitarian, philanthropist, and successful businessman who loved the city of Chicago and Chicago loved him in return. Edward Gardner passed away peacefully on Monday March 20, 2023 surrounded by his family and loved ones. He was 98 years old.

Ed Gardner was a well-known and admired businessman. In 1964 he ended his career as a popular teacher and assistant principal to start a hair care company called Soft Sheen Products, Inc. with his wife Bettiann. He often stated that his primary reason for starting Soft Sheen Products, Inc. was to create employment opportunities for young black and brown men and women. With that in mind, he continued his commitment to supporting the livelihoods of professional estheticians by ensuring that his most popular product system, Care Free Curl, could only be purchased and used by them. Throughout his time as the owner of the company, he continued to offer exclusive products to his beloved salon clients.
From an early age his four children Gary, Terri, Guy and Tracy were involved in the business along with his wife Bettiann. Soft Sheen Products, Inc.
based on Chicago’s South Side, grew into one of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses.

“He was my father, my hero, my teacher. I looked up to him,” Gary Gardner said Wednesday. “I feel blessed to have had Ed Gardner as my father. He was the embodiment of the hard working, family oriented and responsible black father. He taught me the value of a strong work ethic. He got up early in the morning and told us, “We can’t do it like this,” which means we get to work. When he wasn’t at work, he was at home with his family. If you saw Ed Gardner out after work or on the weekends, he had us, his kids, in tow. As the eldest, I think I spent most of my time with him as a kid. He taught me to fish. He taught me how to garden. He taught me how to build, how to fix things, how to drive and how not to drive. When I was 12, he took me to work on Saturdays where I learned how to make hair products. I was his assistant when he made product deliveries. He also taught me how to make mistakes. Most importantly, he taught me how to include all people with humanity and humility,” said Gary Gardner.

New products, new innovations and new ideas fueled Soft Sheen’s remarkable success, yet while he kept an eye on his business his heart was always with the people – especially the youth.

Ed Gardner’s greatest contribution to the city he loved was doing whatever he could to help Chicago elect its first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983. Come Alive October 5″.

The campaign, which bombarded the city with banners, print and radio ads, registered over 200,000 new voters and helped secure Harold Washington’s victory. In 1992, his in-house communications agency, led by his daughter Terri, created a second highly successful voter registration campaign in partnership with Project Vote, led by Barack Obama.

According to Terri Gardner, “One of my father’s greatest qualities was his stamina. He believed in himself and in his ability not only to hope things will work out, but to make things work out. It is an entrepreneurial quality that has allowed him to start a business despite the challenges of institutional and individual racism. Unfortunately, these challenges have never gone away – despite his tremendous business success.”

Dismayed by the level of violence in the community, he founded the non-profit organization Black On Black Love in the 1980s. He firmly believed that promoting self-love and self-esteem could transform hearts, and the organization created No Crime Day to celebrate these principles and promote peace. It expanded its offerings to a variety of social services, including after-school programs and job training. Through the decades, Ed’s faith in God and humanity and his belief in the power of the written word to stop the violence endured. After 16-year-old Blair Holt was shot dead while riding the bus home from school in 2007, Ed Gardner bought thousands of dollars worth of billboards with messages about black-on-black love.

His and his wife’s love of theater inspired him to recreate one of Chicago’s most historic entertainment venues, the Regal Theatre. The New Regal Theater brought big acts like Gladys Knight and newcomers like Kanye West and Tyler Perry to audiences on the city’s South Side. In 2000, Ed converted an 84,600 square foot warehouse at 95th & Cottage Grove into House of Kicks, a family entertainment and education complex. With rides, bowling, miniature golf and an interactive learning center, the complex had the only roller coaster in Chicago at the time.

In the 1980s, Ed and his wife Bettiann became co-owners of the Chicago Bulls basketball team, cementing their love for Chicago and its award-winning franchise. He has served on the boards of Chicago United and The Chicago Urban League.

In September 2012, at the age of 87, Edward Gardner led over a thousand protesters to protest the lack of black workers in local construction crews. Ed Gardner proudly walked arm in arm with longtime colleagues Manford Byrd, Lerone Bennett and Timuel Black at the head of the line.

For more than half a century, the family has proudly and selflessly shared their husband, father, father-in-law, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather with the world. And now his work is done; he belongs to the ages. He leaves behind a legend of love and a powerful life that the world will remember. Words of remembrance and condolences are encouraged on the Edward Gardner In Memoriam Facebook group page https://www.facebook.com/groups/3117330031746372
A private family service is planned. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Chicago State University, https://www.csu.edu/foundation/donate.htm