Leaders & Legacies: Betty and Jerry Bradshaw, business and community leaders, philanthropists, friends to all

Business and community leaders, philanthropists, friends to all

  • Betty Bradshaw (1937-2021) and Jerry Bradshaw (1931-1996)

    Betty Bradshaw (1937-2021) and Jerry Bradshaw (1931-1996) Courtesy of the Bradshaw family

  • DuPage Foundation's Leaders & Legacy series

    DuPage Foundation's Leaders & Legacy series

 
 
Posted10/20/2021 10:56 AM

Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact, celebrating the powerful role philanthropy plays in our community, is an ongoing series brought to you in partnership by the Daily Herald and the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. It highlights the inspiring stories of local individuals, families and businesses that have made or are making a lasting impact for our community through their generosity and leadership.

The series continues with Betty Bradshaw (1937-2021) and Jerry Bradshaw (1931-1996).

 

Most of us know the story of Ben Franklin. Someone who came from humble roots, accumulated wealth from his visionary inventions and business acumen, and then used his knowledge and wealth for the good of all. DuPage County is fortunate to have our share of residents cut from the same cloth, like Betty and Jerry Bradshaw of Wheaton.

Betty and Jerry both came from modest beginnings. Born in far downstate Grayville, Jerry grew up in Buckley, 40 miles south of Kankakee, and Betty grew up on a dairy farm in Tigerton, Wisconsin. Like so many Depression-era children, Betty and Jerry worked hard from a young age. Jerry helped his parents and sisters when his older brother left home in 1942 to fight in World War II. As a 10-year-old, Betty's chores included milking 40 cows twice a day. By their early 20s, they had both moved to Chicago to explore life in the city.

Jerry became a bank examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago while Betty wound up working at Wesley Memorial Hospital in the blood bank. But it was a YMCA ski trip to Austria that brought them together. Married a short time later, they moved to the Chicago neighborhood of Beverly where Jerry had become a community banker at Beverly Bank. He was later transferred to Gary-Wheaton Bank in 1972 after its acquisition by Beverly Bank, paving the way for the Bradshaw family's move to Wheaton.

A 1977 photo of Jerry and Betty Bradshaw with daughters Molly and Megan.
A 1977 photo of Jerry and Betty Bradshaw with daughters Molly and Megan. - Courtesy of the Bradshaw family
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His style of leadership in the banking world came to be universally admired. Jerry led by example and was adored by all. From the window of his first-floor office overlooking downtown Wheaton, Jerry would often wave at passersby.

Jerry brought in some of the best talent, including Bob Hesterman, who ultimately succeeded Jerry as the president of Gary-Wheaton Bank. Hesterman remembers Jerry as a visionary who rocked the world of community banking by instituting evening and weekend hours, including staying open on Sundays. He introduced a credit card with no annual fees and a considerably lower interest rate than the big banks were offering. He was also the first person to introduce the concept of a debit card in the Chicago area, because he knew credit cards weren't the right product for many of his customers.

Bob Hesterman, left, and Jerry Bradshaw sit down for a chat at Gary-Wheaton Bank.
Bob Hesterman, left, and Jerry Bradshaw sit down for a chat at Gary-Wheaton Bank. - Courtesy of the Bradshaw family

While other banks were charging fees for smaller checking accounts, Gary-Wheaton Bank created a program where all checking accounts were free. Jerry began a mortgage brokerage business that allowed Gary-Wheaton Bank to meet the housing needs of their customers. He also introduced a discount brokerage service through the bank, and when branch banking started, Jerry ran with it and acquired banks in Downers Grove, Naperville, Batavia, St. Charles, and Bloomingdale. Each one could operate with complete autonomy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After coming out of yet another meeting with fellow bankers in Chicago in the early '70s, Jerry told Hesterman (then vice president of the bank) that they wouldn't be doing that anymore. From then on, time would be spent with customers, not other bankers. The customer was always Jerry's priority.

Jerry Bradshaw, center, seated, with fellow Gary-Wheaton Bank board members, top row, from left, Jim Mahoney, Bob Hesterman, George Shorney, Cleve Carney, Bill Pollard, and Jim Huck; and seated, Jim Ferry and Bill Freeman.
Jerry Bradshaw, center, seated, with fellow Gary-Wheaton Bank board members, top row, from left, Jim Mahoney, Bob Hesterman, George Shorney, Cleve Carney, Bill Pollard, and Jim Huck; and seated, Jim Ferry and Bill Freeman. - Courtesy of the Bradshaw family

Hesterman remembers Jerry as someone who was more effective than words can convey. "He had an incredible sense of humor, he was visionary, he was creative, and he was community driven."

According to Hesterman, the lobby at the Gary-Wheaton Bank was like a party on Saturdays because Jerry made it the place to be. He was always focused on the bank's customers and would park at the furthest spot from the bank entrance. It was important to him that the customers had access to the best parking spots. Jerry also instituted a policy that none of the employees who drove a bank car could drive a Cadillac. Driving an expensive car would reflect badly on the bank as stewards of the money that was entrusted to them by their customers.

Realizing he was the face of the bank, Jerry created an ad campaign featuring his picture. He became so recognizable from the ads that people would stop him at a White Sox game and say, "Hey, you're the guy in the ads." In the early 1970s, Jerry named Breezy the Clown as the president of the Junior Banking program, which encouraged kids to start savings accounts. He even came up with a humorous newspaper ad to promote the program, showing photos of the bank's two presidents -- Jerry and Breezy.

Jerry Bradshaw created this newspaper ad featuring Breezy the Clown as the president of the Junior Banking program.
Jerry Bradshaw created this newspaper ad featuring Breezy the Clown as the president of the Junior Banking program. - Courtesy of the Bradshaw family

Bob Paszczak, the current chairman of the Wheaton Bank & Trust board, worked with Jerry at Gary-Wheaton Bank and remembered his humorous quips. When asked about working out, Jerry would say, "Your body is like a bar of soap. The more you use it, the faster it wears out."

A kid at heart with a great sense of humor, Jerry was never afraid to make fun of himself. At a DuPage Clean & Beautiful Committee awards dinner, Jerry questioned why he should receive the award and Paszczak replied it was probably because he wore clean underwear. The audience broke out in laughter when Jerry worked that joke into his acceptance speech.

Betty and Jerry at a costume party.
Betty and Jerry at a costume party. - Courtesy of the Bradshaw family

More than one Gary-Wheaton Bank shareholder credits Jerry with the tremendous growth in the value of Gary-Wheaton Bank stock. Jerry often encouraged people to buy stock in the bank, and those who did so were well-rewarded. Within 15 years' time, an investment of $10,000 became worth $492,000 when Gary-Wheaton Bank was acquired by First Chicago in 1988. Always believing in the responsibility of giving back, much of that wealth has been returned to organizations and people in need in DuPage County.

Jerry, together with DuPage residents Brooks McCormick and Mary Eleanor Wall, co-founded The DuPage Community Foundation (now known as DuPage Foundation) in 1986. Their idea was to create an organization wholly focused on raising the quality of life for residents throughout DuPage County by allowing people and businesses to combine resources to create a permanent charitable endowment that would help fuel area nonprofits with grant funding to effect the greatest impact possible.

Thirty years later, DuPage Foundation has granted more than $60 million on behalf of its donors and partners throughout our community and beyond.

Jerry was known to say, "When the tide comes in, all ships in the harbor rise." A sentiment he surely had in mind when he helped found DuPage Foundation.

Beyond DuPage Foundation, Betty and Jerry supported so many of the nonprofits and civic organizations in DuPage County, including Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, the National Alliance on Mental Illness-DuPage (NAMI), The Morton Arboretum, Cosley Zoo, The Conservation Foundation, Central DuPage Hospital, Meals on Wheels, DuPage PADS, CASA, League of Women Voters, and The People's Resource Center, among others.

While Jerry was more of a suit-and-tie person, Betty had no problem with manual labor and getting her hands dirty. Her strong handshake, which she attributed to her years of milking cows, was legendary. Her daughter Molly Boed recalls how Betty achieved a black belt in Judo when she was in her 20s and could still "flip" adults onto the ground well into her 40s.

Brook McDonald, current president and CEO of the Conservation Foundation, recalled first meeting Betty in the late 1980s when he was working on a project to open the Lincoln Marsh for the Wheaton Park District. Brook began referring to Betty and her friends as "The Cushman Crew" since they would fill up the Cushman utility vehicle with wood chips to spread on the path that ran through the Lincoln Marsh. Having grown up on a dairy farm, Betty was no stranger to physical labor.

Betty Bradshaw, left, is joined by Cleve Carney and the Honorable Bonnie Wheaton at a DuPage Foundation event in 2006.
Betty Bradshaw, left, is joined by Cleve Carney and the Honorable Bonnie Wheaton at a DuPage Foundation event in 2006. - Courtesy of DuPage Foundation

Known for being passionate about her charitable causes, Betty's friends also remember that she was extremely loyal to everything she loved including the White Sox, the Blackhawks, the Green Bay Packers, and theater.

Dave McGowan, current president and CEO of DuPage Foundation, never knew Jerry Bradshaw, who passed away in the mid-'90s. But he became very close to Betty through her involvement with the foundation. Between Betty and Jerry, they had more than 20 years of service as trustees of DuPage Foundation. Their philanthropic work came to be widely admired and they earned the praise of every organization where they had been of service.

McGowan remembers Betty as self-effacing, generous, and very funny. A woman of few words, Betty had two go-to acceptance speeches for the many awards she received in recognition for her life of service. The short version: "Thank you." And her longer version: "Thank you very much."

Betty served on the grant committee at DuPage Foundation and she personally visited the sites of the nonprofits that had applied for funding. Fellow committee members remember Betty felt strongly that money should be donated where it could really make a difference. After a visit to a Winfield farm offering therapeutic horseback riding, she enthusiastically got behind supporting Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities after seeing how happy it made these first-time riders.

Dorothy O'Reilly and her family were close friends with Jerry and Betty and their daughters. They all skied and owned a condo together in Keystone, Colorado. O'Reilly remembers how the Bradshaw family faced a tragic loss while driving to Keystone over Christmas break in 1984. Their 16-year-old daughter, Megan, was killed in a car accident and Betty suffered serious injuries that left her hospitalized for several months. Friends remember Betty, Jerry, and their daughter, Molly, as being incredibly resilient. They were determined not to be mired in sadness. That the family remained strong during those challenging times is a testament to their faith, family and friends. A memorial scholarship was created in memory of Megan Bradshaw, which continues to support a Wheaton North student in their pursuit of a higher education.

In 1996, Betty and Molly lost Jerry to pancreatic cancer at age 64. In later years, Betty struggled with dementia and she passed away in August of this year. The couple had been members of the Legacy Society at DuPage Foundation and worked with the foundation during their lifetimes to plan for their ongoing support of charitable causes. They named DuPage Foundation as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy to further support the Megan Bradshaw Scholarship Fund, as well as to establish a new scholarship fund in Jerry's name at the College of DuPage.

Betty Bradshaw, right, is joined by her daughter and son-in-law Molly and Roman Boed, with grandsons Julian, Finn and Owen, at her 80th birthday celebration at Glen Oak Country Club in Glen Ellyn.
Betty Bradshaw, right, is joined by her daughter and son-in-law Molly and Roman Boed, with grandsons Julian, Finn and Owen, at her 80th birthday celebration at Glen Oak Country Club in Glen Ellyn. - Courtesy of the Bradshaw family

Molly said her parents' love for their community was evident to everyone they knew. They believed in making a difference, both in their community and the wider world.

Molly hopes her parents will be remembered as friendly, kind, generous, and helpful people who loved living in Wheaton. From the number of people who helped put together this article, they are in fact remembered as Molly had hoped. It's never easy to express a proper thanks to people like Betty and Jerry who have done so much for so many, so let's go with the long version of Betty's acceptance speech. Thank you very much.

• The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Alice Wood, director of gift planning, at alice@dupagefoundation.org. Interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community and favorite causes? Learn more at www.dupagefoundation.org or call (630) 665-5556. A special thanks to Molly Boed and Bob Hesterman for their invaluable contributions to this article along with the following individuals: Bob Hutchinson, Brook McDonald, Dave McGowan, Joan Morrissey, Dorothy O'Reilly, Bob Paszczak, Carol Powell, Bob Riley, Bob Schillerstrom, Mike Sitrick, Mary Wachter, and the Honorable Bonnie Wheaton. Apologies to the friends and family members of Jerry and Betty Bradshaw who were unable to contribute to this story. DuPage Foundation is located at 3000 Woodcreek Drive, Suite 310 in Downers Grove, IL 60515. Additional information about DuPage Foundation is available at dupagefoundation.org.

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