Elgin founder of suburban group of McDonald's franchises remembered as a kind businessman
The Elgin founder of a large group of McDonald's franchise restaurants in the suburbs was remembered as a kind family man and businessman always committed to contributing to the community.
Gerald "Jerry" Bear was 86 when he died Friday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Services were held Wednesday in Arlington Heights.
"Jerry never thought of giving as an obligation. He thought of it as a privilege," George Rawlinson of Elgin said while remembering his friend at the Elgin City Council meeting Wednesday. "And it was a privilege to have him here in Elgin."
Bear and his wife of 59 years, Marcelle, bought their first McDonald's in 1967 on Larkin Avenue in Elgin, the business' website says. The restaurant consisted of a walk-up window with seating for four, and sales were so low that the couple worked some shifts, Marcelle at the counter and Jerry in the kitchen.
They bought their second McDonald's in 1969 on Summit Street in Elgin, opened one in Streamwood nine years later and more over the decades. A company representative said Bear family restaurants are in 32 locations in more than 15 suburbs, including South Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Barrington, Lombard, Bloomingdale, Elk Grove Village and Mount Prospect.
Jerry and Marcelle Bear retired in 2016, and their sons, Marc and David Bear, own and operate the family business.
The Bears served on several nonprofit boards, were active in parent-teacher organizations, participated in activities by the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce and were engaged with the faith community, according to the business' website. They also founded the Bear Family Hebrew School at Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center in Fort Lauderdale.
The family has hosted dozens of "McTeacher" nights, which raise money for school-related causes, contributes to local social service agencies and is engaged in volunteering, the website says. It was named the 2013 Illinois Family Business of the Year by Loyola University Chicago's Quinlan School of Business, which recognizes strong commitment to business and family.
Carol Gieske, president of the Elgin Area Chamber, said Bear McDonald's restaurants provide employment to more than 1,300 people. "It's really incredible to see they are a major employer. They are a significant employment driver in our community," she said.
Gieske said she's heard many stories over the years from Marc and David Bear, such as how their father used to climb ladders to update on a restaurant billboard the number of burgers sold. Jerry Bear added a second drive-through lane -- long before that became common -- at the Larkin Avenue location when the restaurant became so successful that traffic was backed up, she said.
"While Jerry Bear's business success was nothing short of extraordinary, his community commitment to Elgin was equally impressive," Rawlinson said. "Giving back was never, never an extra curricular activity for Jerry."