My mother, Dawn Nancy Amundson, passed away quietly in her sleep on December 26th, 2021. She was 75.
Her entrepreneurial journey began when I was four. She bought a Kirby vacuum cleaner distributorship, down on Armitage. It didn’t last long, a few months.
But please realize that at a very young age, Mama had true ambition. She was 24 years old with a high school education, a couple of college courses under her belt, a four year old son back at home, and was a minority.
Back in 1970, this just wasn’t done. People like her didn’t own businesses. Her first stab at entrepreneuring failed as most do, but she didn’t let that stop her.
In August of 1976, a month after the bicentennial, Mom opened Amundson Arts Academy, teaching dance, drama, voice, and music, over at Montrose and Central in Portage Park. She worked hard building that business, years of ten and twelve hour days. A couple of years later, what happened? The ’78 – ’81 depression. Things were tough.
Mom had plenty of professional students who needed representation, so she set up a booking agency named Aaron Alexander Enterprises. She made up that name so that she would be first in the Yellow Pages when people were looking for entertainment. So we started booking piano bar acts, duos, trios, bands, and dancers to the hospitality industry here in Chicago.
You need to realize what that business was like. Some food and beverage manager at a hotel will call you and say, “I need a girl to stand on her head, juggle, and sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner.'” You say, “No problem. $500.”
At which point you need to go find some crazy person to do the job, which in Chicago isn’t that hard to do. My point is that you’re constantly selling what you don’t have. This runs contrary to reason, but that’s just that business.
Back then, the corporate event planning business was dominated by florists. It was all about decorations. You’d go to a Country and Western Hoedown and it would look like a funeral; nothing but flowers. You’d go to a Chicago Gangster party, and same thing. Flowers, flowers, and more flowers.
Mom looked at this and said, “This is stupid. People make the party, not the decorations, and I’ve got the people.” So she had me put together some flyers, advertising her new event planning business.
We put together four flyers for a Hawaiian Luau, a Chicago Ganster Party, a Country and Western Hoedown, and this new thing that everyone was talking about; this thing called a Murder Mystery.
No one knew what these things were, but again, please realize that we were in the business selling what we didn’t have. We didn’t even think twice about putting this out on the street to see what would happen.
I put together a mailing list of 376 General Managers, Food & Beverage Managers, and Catering Managers and sent out these four flyers. Of course, the phone rang off the hook for this thing called a Murder Mystery.
We still had no idea what it actually was, so we booked a show, and found some theater troop to do it. It was a Halloween Party, and I was there. People were running around doing whatever. I looked at this thing and said to myself, “What the hell is this?”
Mama and her then great friend Bernie Bloom, took one look at this thing and said, “We can really do something with this.” And they did.
When I was 19 her business did $250K a year. When I was 23, it did $2.7M. Watching a business grow like that was just a thing of beauty. She had the hottest entertainment ticket in town.
All of a sudden she was the largest purchaser of Amtrak Train Tickets in the United States. We all expected the business to go like most fads. In other words it would go straight up and then straight down, only it didn’t. It plateaued and Mama made her living doing Murder Mysteries for the rest of her life.
Let me leave you with this.
The reason I’m telling this story is for all of you to get some perspective on your own entrepreneurial journey. People who don’t entrepreneur, don’t realize all of the lives that you touch. Since I made the announcement online, the outpouring of love and support has been nothing short of amazing.
I’ve heard from so many of her customers who tell stories of how they just loved her shows. Mom spent her life entertaining people, making them laugh, making them enjoy themselves.
It was truly a noble way to spend a life. She lived to give joy to others.
Our journey on this big, blue marble is a short one. We never know when we’ll be called home.
Years from now, when your children or grandchildren remember you, what will they say? Will they remember a life well-lived where you helped your fellow man, or will they tell another, more sordid story?
Spend some time today thinking about your own story. Let’s make it one where when you leave this world, you’ve made your own little part of it better.
We’re all going to get through this. Let’s get through it together.
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