James ‘Jim’ Buckner, Chicago civic leader and longtime soccer volunteer, dead at 86
After moving to Chicago from Vicksburg, Mississippi, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a dentist but also ran many businesses and was president of the Chicago Urban League.
When Jim Buckner’s father Clarence became a dentist in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the 1920s, Black medical professionals there had trouble finding an office in which to practice.
“He actually practiced dentistry out of his car and would drive to a patient’s house and help them that way,” said Jim Buckner’s son, Jordan Buckner.
After moving to Chicago, Mr. Buckner, like his father, worked as a dentist.
He also opened grocery stores and travel agencies and served on the board of the City Colleges and Seaway, one of Chicago’s first and largest Black-owned banks, and occasionally ferried the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to and from O’Hare Airport, his family said.
Mr. Buckner also served as president of the Chicago Urban League, for which he lobbied to get more Black workers into the building trades, and hosted meetings at his home for Operation Breadbasket, which pushed for Black hiring at major companies.
Mr. Buckner, 86, died June 7 at his Hyde Park home of kidney failure, according to his daughter JaSaun Buckner.
James D. Montgomery, a Chicago lawyer and former City Hall corporation counsel, said, “He was an all-around good citizen.”
Always active, Mr. Buckner learned to skydive, scuba dive and ride a motorcycle in his 70s and was a soccer mentor for hundreds of kids in Hyde Park, coaching and refereeing games for decades.
“A week before he died,” his partner Kimberly Eddington-Nance said, “he was on the soccer field keeping score.”
Young Jim grew up in Vicksburg, where he attended “the Black school,” Bowman High School.
“Everything was segregated,” said his friend and fellow Vicksburg native Bettye Odom, founder of Bettye O day spa in Hyde Park.
He went to Virginia State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then studied dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago, taking classes at its old location at Navy Pier, his daughter said.
Mr. Buckner operated a dental office at 50th Street and State Street and another at the Harbor Point condominiums near the Columbia Yacht Club. His patients included singer Cissy Houston, the mother of Whitney Houston.
Mr. Buckner owned Food Basket grocery stores at 87th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and on 79th Street in South Shore, according to his daughter, who said he also operated travel agencies at Harbor Point and on 87th Street.
When his sons Jordan and Justin got involved with soccer, he started coaching American Youth Soccer Organization teams. His players would practice on the Midway Plaisance and play at Jackson Park. Over the years, Mr. Buckner also coordinated schedules and rosters and refereed for traveling teams and University of Chicago Lab School teams.
When soccer parents got riled up, as soccer parents sometimes do, he’d stay calm and softspoken. Max Shuftan, 33, one of his former players, remembers his team once playing a lackadaisical final game of the club season. At halftime, the score was 3-0.
“He didn’t give us a long, loud or angry speech,” Shuftan said. “He simply looked at us and said, ‘Guys, we’re down 3-0. It’s the last game. Many of your parents are here. So what have we been playing for all year? I need you to score at least three goals in the second half.’
“Sure enough, we scored four goals in the second half to win 4-3. Getting that result, instead of us losing, earned us first place in our division.”
After a heart attack about a decade ago, “He just went out and tried to do all the kinds of things he wanted to do, which included a motorcycle license and skydiving,” his daughter said.
“In his 80s, we went zip-lining,” Eddington-Nance said. “We went whale-watching in Portugal and Hawaii. He was planning to do a 118-day cruise next year despite being on dialysis. He was trying to work on whether to send the equipment ahead of time.”
Mr. Buckner also traveled to the Amazon basin, Ghana, Italy and South Africa and went whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon.
“We have touched every continent except Australia and the Antarctic,” Eddington-Nance said.
In addition to his three children and partner, Mr. Buckner is survived by three grandchildren.
A wake is planned for 9:30 a.m. June 25 followed by a service at 10 a.m. June 25 at Leak and Sons Funeral Home in Country Club Hills, with burial at Oak Woods Cemetery.