'More than just business': South Side businessman, civil leader Ed Gardner dies at 98

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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
South Side businessman, civil leader Ed Gardner dies at 98
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The family of Ed Gardner is remembering the Soft Sheen hair care products founder and South Side civil leader.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The world knew Edward Gardner as a successful businessman.

Chicago knew "Ed" Gardner as a dedicated civil leader.

His grandson, Kyle, knew him as "Poppy."

"He was an incredible businessman. He was, I think, an even better person," Kyle said. "To us, down inside, he was always that 'Poppy' on the boat teaching us how to hook a bass."

The creator and founder of Soft Sheen hair care products held many titles in his long life, but his family said his legacy will be in his dedication to others. He died on Monday at 98 years old.

"He never failed to answer the call when he was called upon to help the city grow," Kyle said.

Gardner invested his life's work in the South Side community he grew up in.

"He was always instilling with us and he always emphasized, life and your career and your vocation was about more than just business," Kyle said.

Gardner, a World War II veteran and former Chicago public school teacher, was a man of service and selflessness.

Together, he and his wife, Betty, raised a hair care empire and four children while also serving the city.

In the 1980s, Gardner, using his resources during Harold Washington's mayoral campaign to register more than 200,000 people to vote.

A couple years later, he bought the Avalon Theater to restore the once crown jewel of the South Side.

"When he saw a need, he was so excited to jump in," Kyle said.

In 2012, Gardner lead 1,000 demonstrators protesting the need for more Black workers at a major construction site in the city's South Side.

"The one thing for me, I really take away from him, is just that bravery," Kyle said. "It was about, what can you do to really help those coming up next behind you?"

Kyle said his grandfather was a man who loved Chicago, and Chicago loved him right back.