GRAND BOULEVARD — Bill Ball, the longtime owner of Abundance Bakery in Bronzeville, died Wednesday. He was 74.
His wife, Jan Ball, said the Bronzeville native died of natural causes.
Ball left his Motorola corporate sales job in 1990 to open the bakery at 105 E. 47th St. with the support of his wife and his mother, then a cook at Kenwood Academy. Many of the sweet treats came from family recipes, Jan Ball said.
“He had started catering. He was using our kitchen and burning up my cabinets, so I told him, ‘Why don’t you try looking for a place and go for it?'” Jan Ball said.
Ball did eventually replace the cabinets he damaged, his wife said.
Two years later, Ball moved into the 47th Street spot, where he remained until last month. Ball closed the store March 12 to prepare for a move to a larger Bronzeville location. Jan Ball said the new spot is in the works and will reopen at a yet-to-be determined date.
Ball’s business was always going to be in Bronzeville. It was the place that raised him. It was also where he met Jan Ball. The couple celebrated their 41st anniversary earlier this year, she said.
Jan Ball said she wasn’t feeling her future husband at first, but he was persistent. After two meet-cutes — the latter as she was helping with coats at a friend’s housewarming — she was smitten, she said.
“I went to take his coat and I said, ‘I remember him from somewhere’ because we had met before at his house. After the housewarming, he asked my friend for my number again,” Jan Ball said.
They later discovered their families had known each other before either of them were born, as neighbors in a two-story house on 43rd Street and Champlain Avenue. Jan Ball’s mother even recommended the hospital where Bill Ball was born.
“Uncle Bill” was as adventurous as he was generous, his wife said. He showed his wife the world while showing kids from the neighborhood the beauty of possibility, imparting wisdom with each lunchroom cookie sold, she said.
Ball employed them, as well. Many a kid from the Low End could be seen in his shop sweeping the floors or manning the register. When they left, they’d always come back to thank him, Jan Ball said.
Customers came from all over for Ball’s assortment of treats, from his famous caramel upside down cake to his popular sweet potato pies, which sold out every holiday season, Jan Ball said.
As the neighborhood demographics changed over the years, business declined and Ball found himself struggling to stay afloat, telling WBEZ’s Natalie Moore he didn’t think the upwardly mobile Black professionals in the area knew his bakery existed.
Still, Ball soldiered on, eventually building partnerships with neighboring businesses like Peach’s Restaurant and Parkway Ballroom. And though time may have slowed his step, he still went to work every day, answering phones and managing the kitchen from his stool, Jan Ball said.
As Jan Ball prepares to give her beloved husband a proper homegoing next month, she said she is touched by the outpouring of support from the community.
“We really do love our Bill,” she said. “He will be missed.”