Des Plaines florist remembered for his charitable works for children
Florist James Harney provided flowers for bizzare events -- such as Tiny Tim and Miss Vicky's wedding in 1969.
He also used his craft in more traditional settings, including an 8-foot-tall cross displayed every Easter in front of a Des Plaines church.
Harney, 77, of Des Plaines, ran Aberdeen's Wedding Flowers in Chicago and elsewhere for nearly 50 years.
At its peak in the1990s, the business provided flowers for nearly 300 weddings per week.
"I can't think of a more caring person," his son-in-law, Frank Davis of Prospect Heights, said of Harney, who died Dec. 27 at his home.
While Harney made his living with flowers, he also helped make happy memories for children.
Since 2003, he and Davis ran a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing gifts for sick children during the holidays and throughout the year.
Their passion for helping children in need grew out of an episode in 2003, when thieves broke into Aberdeen's and stole $2,000 and 70 toys staff members had donated for a children's Christmas party.
"He took that so personally," Davis said. "He vowed that if he had to replace every single toy personally, he'd do it."
Instead, Harney contacted the media, and subsequent news coverage mobilized residents from around the Chicago area.
Before Harney and Davis knew it, Aberdeen's was overflowing with tens of thousands of donated toys.
"We thought of it as defeating the Grinch that stole Christmas," Davis said.
Collecting the toys and donating to local children's organizations became an annual event for Harney and Davis.
They formally incorporated the 100 Percent Foundation in 2005, and over the last 10 years, the foundation has distributed thousands of donated toys to more than 60 hospitals and organizations.
Recipients have included Little City Foundation and Kirk School, both in Palatine; Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge; Vista Health System and Kids Hope United in Waukegan; Allendale Association in Lake Villa; Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville; Nicasa in Round Lake; and food pantries at CEDA Northwest in Mount Prospect and at Wheeling Township in Arlington Heights.
Harney got into the floral business during college. He worked his way through school by designing and delivering flowers for a Chicago florist.
He opened his own shop in 1962; Harney named it Aberdeen's Wedding Flowers so it would be the first florist listed in the phone book.
His love of flowers, especially international varieties, landed him jobs on high-profile weddings, including Michael Daley, son of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and Tricia Nixon's wedding in the White House.
According to family members, Harney landed the wedding for Tiny Tim -- best known for his song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" -- by ordering all the tulips available from the Holland Tulip Exchange before the wedding, which was set to air on NBC's "The Tonight Show."
When NBC's florist couldn't get tulips, Harney's persistence convinced network officials to give him the job. He filled the studio with thousands of yellow and white tulips for the ceremony, and the ensuing publicity helped the business soar.
But it was his final years of helping disadvantaged children that gave Harney the most pleasure.
Harney talked about his annual mission to provide toys and joy to sick children in a 2012 Daily Herald interview.
"Their stories are unbelievable," Harney said. "I'll remember some of these children forever."
Services have been held.