Harold Gaede

Longtime Wheaton clothier who fitted generations of teens for formal dances, dies

Harold W. Gaede ran a clothing store in downtown Wheaton for 53 years and over the years served on the boards of the western suburb’s library and chamber of commerce.

“He felt that in order for his business to thrive, the community also had to thrive,” said his daughter, Susan Murphy. “That was the impetus for him to get involved in everything.”

Gaede, 90, died of natural causes on Nov. 6 at Wynscape Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Wheaton. He had lived in Wheaton for 84 years.

Born in Elgin, Gaede moved with his family to Wheaton when he was 6 years old, and he grew up in a house on Willow Street in a neighborhood immediately south of the downtown business district. Gaede’s father owned a gas station and sponsored a local softball team, and in June 1944, Gaede tossed a no-hitter in a game against a team sponsored by Scheffler’s Florists.

“I had a lucky night, and we played a weak team,” Gaede recalled to the Tribune in February 2014.

After graduating from Wheaton High School, he served in the Navy and then attended the University of Wyoming before transferring to Bradley University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952.

Gaede began working at a Sears store in the boys department. In 1954, he opened Gaede’s Store for Boys on the first floor of a building at 131 W. Front St. in downtown Wheaton. Gaede started the store with just $3,500 worth of inventory, and he stocked the store’s shelves with empty boxes to make its offerings look more plentiful.

The store quickly found success, and Gaede soon expanded the store to the building’s basement. Gaede in 1964 moved the store to the building at 112 N. Hale St. in downtown Wheaton and then in 1975 moved it to its final spot in the building at 124 N. Hale. The store also broadened its offerings to include clothing for adult men and women, going by the name Gaede’s Men’s and Women’s Shop. After moving to 124 N. Hale, the store dropped its boys department. The store was especially known for providing formal wear for school dances for several generations of Wheaton teens.

“He really enjoyed doing what he was doing,” said Gaede’s brother, Howard, who was the store’s longtime manager. “He worked well with the people, and we kept expanding. We expanded from boys clothing to young men’s to men’s and women.”

“He just wanted to be helpful to people and provide a service,” his daughter said.

The store truly was a family affair, with Gaede’s wife, Joan, his son, Bill, brother, Howard and Howard’s wife, Sue, all working at the store.

In the 1960s, Gaede banded together with two other men’s clothiers in other towns — Dean’s in downtown Naperville and Chuck Hines in Elgin — to form a buying group called the Four Squires. The trio eventually opened three outlying stores under the Four Squires name in Antioch, DeKalb and Rockford.

Gaede was active in the Wheaton Lions Club, where he had been the longest-serving member. He also served on the Wheaton Public Library’s board, where he held the role of vice president, and he had been president of the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, and president and a board member of Glen Ellyn’s B.R. Ryall YMCA.

Gaede and his wife of 66 years, Joan, also sponsored an annual, 0.9-mile run in downtown Wheaton aimed at raising money for the nonprofit Wheaton Youth Outreach group. Runners were required to wear suit coats and carry briefcases.

Gaede’s honors included being named the Wheaton Jaycees’ Man of the Year and the Wheaton Kiwanis’ Citizen of the Year. He also was awarded the Wheaton Lions Club’s Lifetime Service Award.

“He was a fixture (in town),” said Wheaton Lions Club member Bill Davis, a longtime friend and frequent golf partner, who described Gaede as a “mentor.” “He was involved in so many different organizations, and he was a very gentle, soft-spoken person. He was a real silent leader who people followed.”

Gaede had a vacation home in Powers Lake, Wis., where he enjoyed sailing and racing boats, and spent at least part of the winter at a condominium unit he owned in Vero Beach, Fla.

In 2007, Gaede decided to close his store after 53 years in business in order to spend more time with his grandchildren.

In addition to his wife, daughter, son and brother, Gaede is survived by four granddaughters.

– Bob Goldsborough, freelance reporter

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