Gene Anderson was crowned King of Hearts at one of my way-back-when Valentine parties. After the ‘coronation’, I handed him a heart-topped scepter and asked him to say a few words. My family and friends still remember “the king’s speech”:
“Heart! Heart! Heart! Love! Love! Love!”
Gene, a family friend who hired me to “help him finish a catalog” in 1991, died May 30. Although he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2019, he maintained a great attitude while living with the harsh realities of this progressive neurodegenerative disease. His cheerful messages, shared at recent Team Gene ALS Mini-Walks, expressed the love in his heart for the 100-plus walkers who raised money to find a cure for ALS.
His heartfelt congratulations were also shared, via a pre-recorded audio message, at a recent Anderson Lock Annual Meeting. Two employees, Brenda Asta and Randy Leonard, were each honored for 45 years of service. Gene had hired the two teenagers to help meet the growing needs of his fledgling lock sales and service company. Several other current company employees began their careers either when they were still in high school, as part of a work-study program at Maine West High School, or shortly after their graduation. Gene trained, then mentored, his lock techs, office staff, and warehouse workers. He believed in his employees, they were motivated to do their best for him, and he valued and rewarded their loyalty.
Gene prioritized family values. He took Cortney and Britt to work with him on countless Saturdays and summer days. Cortney followed in her father’s footsteps becoming President / Owner after he retired. Her husband, Devin, is Vice President and Door Division Manager, and their two children, Will and Cathryn, spend portions of each summer here. Over the past sixty years, other fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, brothers-in-law, cousins, and friends have been employed at Anderson Lock. These family connections create a unique workplace ambience.
In 1984, to expand retail and warehouse space, Gene moved Anderson Lock into the former Des Plaines’ Post Office building at 1801 Oakton Street. Four years later, when I was writing a twice-weekly community column for the Daily Herald, I learned that Gene’s company had been nearly destroyed when the Des Plaines River overflowed its banks and flooded nearby neighborhoods and commercial areas, including Anderson Lock. I called Gene to get the story.
“Slime. Sludge. Smell. Sandbags. Despair and exhaustion. Total devastation,” Gene reported.
Flooding had caused a 500-gallon fuel oil tank, concealed underground in the former post office parking area (unknown to Gene), to tip and spill its contents. The oil created a nauseating smell and coated everything with a slick, black sludge. Employees, who were working overnight to keep the pumps running, feared an explosion. The fire department was called to assist with cleanup.
Gene later reflected, “It was an intense time for us, yet two blocks away business for other people was going on as usual. Life goes on. My biggest feeling, looking back, is how great it was to see everyone really pitch in and work together to help the company.”
His “Life goes on” philosophy saw him through other adversities over the years. He didn’t dwell on hardships. In addition to working long hours (being in the office when his techs and office staff arrived, and leaving after everyone else had left) Gene liked to have fun! He hosted annual picnics, annual Christmas parties, outings to baseball, basketball and hockey games, and regular pizza parties. He liked clean uniforms, clean service trucks, neat work areas and a well-organized warehouse. He liked calling Jim Riddle “Rids”, John Didier “John-boy” and Laura, his office manager, by her last name: “MIL-LER!” He liked Swedish Flop and SuperDawgs. He didn’t like whistling in the warehouse!
As noted in the Locksmith Ledger magazine, in April, 1997, “Every person starting into business dreams that his or her new business will be a success. Gene Anderson started his small locksmith business in 1960 with such a dream…” The article continued, “Gene Anderson has built a company by helping each of his employee reach their full potential. His enthusiastic, hard-working employees have, in turn, helped the company become a very successful company in the security field.” Other quotes from the article were: “The work atmosphere is one that any company could use as a pattern for success.” And, “Anderson Lock has built a reputation for product knowledge.”
Following the first, very successful, Team Gene Mini-Walk for ALS, Anderson Lock received a letter from our longtime Master Lock sales representative, Ray Green. He wrote, “I congratulate you all on honoring a man who certainly deserved to be recognized for not just building a successful business, but in what I believe is his most meaningful legacy—hiring, training, mentoring, and leading many to have successful and long careers as they served at Anderson Lock Company. I’d also add that that legacy is clearly living on with the leadership that Cortney is pouring into ALC that surely reflects the strengths and values that Gene led with. God bless you all.”
There will be many more tributes written like Ray’s, in the coming days, as the word spreads that Gene has died.
As for me, I remember that he hired me to finish a hardware catalog when I knew nothing about security door hardware. Moreover, I didn’t even know how to turn the boxy little Apple computer on or off! He hired me when my oldest daughter and her friend Cortney were headed off to college, and I needed a fulltime job. He hired me knowing that I didn’t have insurance, making sure that if any of my daughters needed to be hospitalized, we would be covered.
I have been honored to write way more than a few words about Anderson Lock, and about my good friend Gene. And I will always remember that when I asked him for “a few words” he held the heart-topped scepter up and said, “Heart! Heart! Heart! Love! Love! Love!”
by Kathi Bradbury Frelk