Edward Keith Leak Sr. grew up as a child of the Great Depression. He was born on August 27, 1928, to parents Andrew Robert Leak and Lula Mae Leak. But the year of his birth would prove to be only a slight obstacle, as he thrived in a family business that is one of Chicago’s legacies and nurtured a family that in the end included seven children, 45 grandchildren, 43 great grandchildren and 6 great-great grandchildren.
While he was young, Edward’s parents divorced, and Edward and his mom moved to Rockford, Illinois, where he lived on a farm with his mom and grandparents, Sol Harvey Dees (Dit) and Frances Dees. The family lived there during the Great Depression and out of necessity, he learned to help support his family by earning money shining shoes after school.
A family member recalls the story of how Edward developed a distain for chicken. Edward had a pet chicken that he would play with each day after returning home from school and shining shoes. On one particular day, country fried chicken was on the menu for dinner. Afterward, Edward ran outside to feed the chicken, but he was not there. Upon asking his mom what happened to his pet chicken, she informed him, “You just ate him!” Devastated, little Eddie never ate chicken or poultry again!
When Edward was 14, he returned to Chicago, where he attended Englewood High School. During this time, he became best friends with William Merrill, William Cousins, Arthur Davis and Arthur Hawkins.
In 1946, Edward studied law briefly at John Marshall Law School until he decided to serve his country by joining the National Guard, where he protected the citizens of the United States for nine years.
Edward continued his education at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and in 1952, at the age of 23, he became lovestruck when he met and married his first wife, Helen Sweezer. Shortly after, he converted to Catholicism, and he and Helen would have two children: Lynne’ Andrea and LaVerne Adrienne Leak. Helen, unfortunately, died a few years after the marriage due to cardiac arrest.
After a while, like many Blacks in the city, Edward began working for the United States Postal Service in 1956. During this time, he married his second wife, Christine B. Thigpen and combined his family along with her 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Martina Vanzyll. Throughout the decade, four additional children, Carol Theresa Leak, Linda Catherine Leak, Edwina Marie Leak and Edward Keith Leak Jr., would be born—making a total of seven children.
In 1960, the Leak family gained the distinction of being the second African American family to integrate the Englewood neighborhood when they moved to 60th and Justine. Edward and Christine Leak became faithful members of Saint Raphael Catholic Church. Not only did they participate in the education of their children at this great school, but Edward served as usher and stand-in godfather at the many baptisms held at the church.
The Civil Rights Movement of the time hearkened, and Edward and Christine knew that they wanted more for their children. By joining groups like the CFM (Christian Family Movement) and Our Gang, they felt that they could make inroads in bettering the lives of all the family members. Both organizations integrated African American and Caucasian families; adults partied together, and children played together, crossing established racial barriers.
Fabulous parties were held at the Leak house with people from all nationalities, with guests including Patricia Michalski, the Bazniks, George O’Hare, Don Cornelius of “Soul Train” fame and John O’Conner, Ed’s “best white friend,” who was with him on the day he passed.
With the 70s came the call of the family legacy and other ambitions. Edward left his job at the post office and joined his father, A.R. Leak, Sr., and brothers to work at the family funeral business, A.R. Leak Funeral Home.
Edward was skilled in many capacities, including serving as building manager of the Colonial House on East 79th Street. This entertainment and meeting spot was built by his father to serve the community. Edward continued working as a funeral director and business manager until he retired in the 90s.
In 1983, the Rev. Christine B. Leak succumbed to cancer, and in 1984, Edward married his third wife, Alberta Hedgley, who had two adult children, Craig and Sheryl Hedgley. The family moved to Country Club Hills, where Edward enjoyed his retirement and continued to host more parties where he had to chase people out of his swimming pool! Edward and Alberta chose St. Emeric Church as their church home, and Edward served as an usher. They remained married until his death on June 4, 2020.
Edward is preceded in death by his parents Andrew Robert Leak and Lula Mae Stokes; stepfather Isaac Stokes, Sr.; stepmother Dotty Leak; brother Isaac Jr. and daughter Lynne Waters. He leaves to mourn his death seven children, Elizabeth (Tyrone), Laverne (David), Carol (Frederick), Linda, Edwina (Curtis, deceased), Edward, Jr., Craig (Cindy) and Sheryl; five siblings, Andrew Robert Leak Jr., (Marquita, deceased), Spencer Leak Sr. (Henrietta), Leon Leak, Patricia Stokes and Isaac Stokes Jr. (deceased); 45 grandchildren, 43 great grandchildren, 6 great- great grandchildren and a host of family and friends.