Friday, June 12, 2015

BE SUNNY - Bernard E. Sunny

If you are wandering through the grounds of beautiful Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago you may happen upon this unusual monument:

Is it a monument for a person, or a suggestion for a happy lifestyle?  If it was a monument to a person, one would expect the name to read B. E. Sunny rather than B - E - Sunny.  If you look around the monument you will see this flat marker:

The style is the same on the marker:  Bernard - E - Sunny.  Let's see what we can dig up about this man and see if he lives up to his "Sunny" name.

Bernard  Edward Sunny was born May 22, 1856 in Brooklyn, New York to Irish immigrants Bernard E. Sunny (1817-1897) and his wife Margaret (1833-1904).  Bernard Sunny was a "Jr." although he seemed to have never used that designation.  Bernard Sr. and Margaret had 4 children other than Bernard Jr.:  James (1854-1889), Mary E. (1863-????), Joseph (1865-1870) and Margaret (1869-????).  Bernard Sr. was employed as a Porter for a store.  

He received his early education in the Brooklyn public schools.  In March of 1875 he came to Chicago as a telegraph operator for the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company.  While there, he worked his way up to Night Manager and then to Manager of the company.  

In 1878, Bernard E. Sunny married Ellen Clifton Rhue (1856-1922) in Brooklyn.  Both the bride and the groom were twenty two years old.  Bernard and Ellen were blessed with two children:  Helen Tyler Sunny (1886-1969) and Arthur Edward Sunny (1891-1940).
In 1879  Sunny left the telegraph company to become superintendent of the Chicago Telephone Company, a predecessor to Illinois Bell Telephone.  He remained with them until 1888.

From 1888 to 1891 Bernard Sunny was the President of the Chicago Arc Light & Power Company.  In 1889 he took a position as western manager of  the Thomson-Houston Company, and because of that Sunny became a vice president of Thomson-Houston's successor, the General Electric Company.  He held this position until 1908.

As was the case with most of the titans of industry, Sunny was also a director of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1892-1893 and also president of the Intermural Railroad at the World's Fair.

The 1900 US Census showed the Sunny family living at 138 (now 1432 N.) Astor Street in Chicago.  A modern apartment building sits on that spot today.  In addition to 45 year old Bernard Sunny and 43 year old Ellen, were thirteen year old daughter Ellen, and ten year old son Arthur.  The Sunnys had a live in cook, 32 year old Margaret Meier and thirty six year old servant Elizabeth Lindinger.  Bernard Sunny did not list an occupation for himself. 

In the summer of 1900, Bernard Sunny took time out of his busy schedule to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1900 in Philadelphia that re-nominated President William McKinley. 

In 1908 Bernard Sunny took the job for which he is best remembered, president of the Chicago Telephone Company which went on to become Illinois Bell Telephone.  He held the position of president until 1922, when he was elected Chairman of the Board, a position he held until 1930 when he retired.  Through his positions at Illinois Bell he was also head of the telephone systems in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In addition to his position as a director of both Illinois Bell and General Electric, Sunny also served on the boards of The First National Bank of Chicago, Public Service Company, Wilson & Company, Edison Electric Appliance Company, General Electric X-Ray Corp., International General Electric Company, the Chicago City Railway Company, the Chicago City and Connecting Railways, the Chicago Surface Lines, and the South Park Commissioners.

The 1910 US Census has the Sunny family living at 4933 S. Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago:

4933 S. Woodlawn, Chicago

In addition to the Sunny family, there are now three live-in servants: twenty nine year old Wilhelmina Rosch and a married couple, William and Katharine Gaine.  William was thirty eight; Katharine was forty two.  This time, Bernard Sunny listed his occupation as "President of a Telephone Company."     

1920 US Census shows the Sunnys still at 4933 S. Woodlawn. Bernard and  Ellen are now "empty-nesters."  Helen and Arthur Sunny have grown up and moved out.  In addition to Bernard and Ellen there are two live-in servants:  thirty two year old Nora Marrin and forty nine year old Bertha George.  Bernard still lists his occupation as "President of a Telephone Company."   

In 1922 an event took place that literally shook Bernard E. Sunny to his core.  Sunny and his wife had decided to build a home at 4913 S. Kimbark Avenue in Chicago:

4913 S. Kimbark, Chicago

Mrs. Sunny was in poor health, so it was decided that she should go to Italy where the temperate climate might help in her recovery.  Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune from October 28, 1922 saw this frightening story:

Luckily no one was in the house at the time of the blast.  All of the damage was eventually repaired and Bernard and Ellen Sunny took up residence in their fancy new home on Kimbark.

B. E. Sunny in 1922

Ellen Sunny's health continued to deteriorate and she died in Chicago on December 27, 1922.  She was 66 years old.  Here is her obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of December 29, 1922:

Here is her Death Notice:

She was buried in the family plot at Rosehill Cemetery:

Bernard Sunny felt is was his civic responsibility to participate in organizations that added to the betterment of life for all citizens.  Even with all his other business and family responsibilities, he still had time to be the President of the Civic Federation of Chicago, President of the Trustees of the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane, President of the Police Pension Fund, Member of the Visitation Committee for the Juvenile Court, Commissioner to select a site for the State House for Delinquent and Dependent Boys, Trustee of the Illinois Manual Training School for Boys, Trustee of the School for Delinquent Girls, President of the Board of the Central Church of Chicago, Trustee of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, Trustee of the Carson Long Institute of New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, Trustee of the Armour Institute of Technology, Director of the Chicago Boys Club and the Boys Clubs of America, a Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a member of the Western Society of Engineers, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Director of the Field Museum of Natural History, Director of the Chicago Historical Society and on the Executive Committee of the American Red Cross.  

Even with all his responsibilities, life must have been lonely for Bernard Sunny.  His wife had died, his children were grown and married - he was all alone in a crowd.  It was no surprise, therefore, when the Chicago Daily Tribune from January 18, 1925 announced the marriage of B.E. Sunny:

Although Bernard E. Sunny officially retired when he turned 65 in 1921, he retained the majority of his Board of Director positions, including Illinois Bell and the other telephone companies and General Electric.  But as the years began to catch up with him he started thinking about his legacy - how he would be remembered after his days on earth were complete.  Sunny was a typical engineer - he thought in concrete - literally and figuratively.  In 1928 it was announced that Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Sunny were donating $400,000.00 to the University of Chicago - specifically for the construction of a gymnasium on the campus.  

Here is an architect's rendering of the gymnasium:

 Here's a photo of Sunny laying the cornerstone on April 15, 1929:

Here is the finished product:

I am pleased to report that the Sunny Gymnasium is still in use today, almost 100 years later.

B. E. Sunny also made a significant contribution to the Armour Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) which awarded him a Doctorate in Engineering.

Bernard's son Arthur died suddenly in Bronx, New York on June 5, 1940. He died of encephalitis (sleeping sickness).  He was 48 years old.  He was brought back to Chicago and buried next to his mother in Rosehill.

Bernard E. Sunny died October 5, 1943 at his home in Chicago.  He was 87.  Sunny had remained active right up until the end of his life.  His obituary reported that he was still going into his Loop office daily until ten days before he died, and he maintained a keen interest in civic affairs, philanthropy, and the corporations of which he was a director.  Here is his Death Certificate:

Here is his Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 6, 1943:

Sunny was buried next to his first wife in the family plot in Rosehill Cemetery.

B - E - Sunny

According to newspaper accounts, B. E. Sunny left an estate of $768,313.00.  50% was left to the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology for scholarships, and the remainder was left to his wife, daughter and other relatives.

B - E - Sunny - Engineer, Businessman, Philanthropist - may he rest in peace.


Note:  Subsequent to publishing this article, several readers wanted to know where the other members of the Sunny family are buried.

The Sunny plot at Rosehill contains the following:

From left to right:

India Waelchli Sunny:  Second wife of Arthur E. Sunny
Arthur Edward Sunny:  Son of Bernard and Ellen Sunny
Ellen Clifton Rhue Sunny:  First wife of Bernard E. Sunny
Bernard Edward Sunny
Emma Holmes Holland Sunny:  Second wife of Bernard E. Sunny.

Bernard and Ellen's daughter Helen Tyler Sunny McKibbin and her husband George Baldwin McKibbin are also buried at Rosehill, but not in the Sunny family plot. 


  1. Emma Holland Derby Sunny died late Friday, December 3, 1948 at home. She was 76 years old. She was buried at Rosehill but I don't believe she is in the Sunny plot. Weather permitting I will go to Rosehill tomorrow and see.

    1. Don't do it just for me, Jim - I was just curious! :)

    2. Perhaps she was buried with her first husband. Also wondering where son Arthur's wife ended up. Betting she remarried too since Arthur was just 48 when he died.

    3. I got over to Rosehill today and photographed the entire Sunny family plot. I added it as an addendum at the end of the article. Always appreciate your interest!

  2. I am bernard edward sunnys great great grandson..I thank you for this research. Its all very interesting

    1. PLEASE contact me!! I have a quilt handmade by your GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT GRANDMOTHER. She wrote on one of the corners - "Arthur Edward Sunny, 1897, Made for by his Grandmother Rhue (I think it's Rhue - could be Rhui) . I've been holding it for years wanting to get it back to you. My phone number is 604 506 7476 (Vancouver, Canada)