“There’s not enough space to tell you what kind of man my father was,” said Joseph G. Shaker, president of Shaker Advertising, the nation’s largest privately held recruitment advertising firm, which Joseph R. started with his wife, Helen, in 1951.
“He was the real thing,” Shaker said, “very gentle and philanthropic?#34;a good man, who was great to both his family and his community. No one gave more. He was very civic-minded.”
You could see the evidence of his father’s impact last Saturday, Shaker said, when more than 2,000 people attended his wake and funeral. “And every person there had a new story,” he said.
Born of Lebanese immigrants in Niles, Ohio in 1923 (his father’s name was Shaker Awad, which the Ellis Island intake person reversed for the sake of convenience), he graduated valedictorian of his high school class, then attended John Carroll University until enlisting in the Army Air Corps, during World War II, where he served as second lieutenant.
After the war, he moved to Chicago and met another Lebanese-American named Anthony Abraham who owned an advertising agency. Mr. Shaker learned the business from him and eventually married his sister. When Abraham retired to Florida, Shaker struck out on his own, first in Chicago, then moving his offices to Oak Park in the mid-1960s. The family firm, which now employs a number of second- and third-generation Shakers, owns the old Montgomery Ward building on the northwest corner of Lake and Marion streets.
Shaker and his wife settled in River Forest and raised three sons and two daughters. He joined the Ridgemoor Country Club, where he got to know Mike Royko, Jack Brickhouse, and his closest friend, Nello Ferrara, who started Ferrara Pan Candy Company in Forest Park.
Mr. Shaker also became involved in philanthropy. When comedian Danny Thomas (another Lebanese American) met with a group of 12 in Cicero in the 1950s to establish the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Joe Shaker became the fundraising chairman. He donated millions to St. Jude over the years, and stayed involved long enough to become the first emeritus board member, according to his son. Today, more than half of the current board consists of the children of original board members, including Joseph G. and his brother, Anthony.
Mr. Shaker was also instrumental in raising funds for two Maronite Catholic churches, one of which, Our Lady of Lebanon, recently opened in Lombard and was the site of his wake last Saturday. In addition, his son said, he supported local churches and organizations, including St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest and St. Giles in Oak Park.
“He was a giver, not a taker,” said Joseph G. “There’s an old saying that it’s not so much what you do for yourself in life but what you leave to your descendents. He left us a lot of great memories and a lot of pride.”
Among the honors that came his way were the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations for “outstanding contributions to their own ethnic groups, their ancestral countries, and to the United States.” He also received the Massabki Medal of the National Apostolate of Maronites.
Joseph R. Shaker died April 3 at Gottlieb Hospital of pneumonia and complications from a stroke he suffered several years ago. He is survived by Helen, his wife of 58 years; his sons, Anthony, Joseph G., and John; his two daughters, Cathy Shaker Breit and Elizabeth Carlson; his brother, Mitchell; his sister, Josephine Stets; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in River Forest on April 8. Interment was private.
“I learned everything from him,” said Joseph G. Shaker, “how to treat people, business, philanthropy. The best compliment I get is when someone says, ‘That’s something your father would say or do.'”