Mildred Bowden, longtime South Side resident who loved Christmas and city’s vibrant Black community, dies at 101
Bowden was the mother to N’DIGO founder Hermene Hartman. She grew up with a multitude of famous Chicagoans like Harold Washington and worked at boxer Joe Louis’ nightclub, the Rhumboogie Cafe.
Mildred Bowden always loved Christmastime. Her extended family would have large, bustling dinners and gatherings throughout the season, starting with Bowden’s own “Egg Nog & Champagne Sip” tradition.
The longtime South Side resident loved buying children who were in need Christmas presents, and she loved to take the kids in her life to see “The Nutcracker.”
So it’s not surprising that the 101-year-old died during the Christmas season, her daughter, Hermene Hartman, said.
Bowden — an “everywoman,” her only child said — was an independent, hard-working and caring woman. She was born during the influenza pandemic and died in the coronavirus pandemic from natural causes on Dec. 12.
Born in 1921, her birth certificate listed her race as “mulatto,” Hartman marveled. Her father moved her to Chicago, and she lost both parents at a young age.
Bowden went to DuSable High School, where she met Chicagoans that would go on to make history — among them musical icons Nat King Cole and Dorothy Donegan, Ebony and Jet magazine founder John H. Johnson and Mayor Harold Washington.
She became part of the management team of the famed Rhumboogie Café, a Hyde Park nightclub co-owned by boxer Joe Louis. Emerging Black talent performed, and Bowden met musical artists like Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan and Louis Jordan.
It was there that she also met the love of her life, Herman Hartman, the first Black Pepsi-Cola distributor in the country, according to their daughter, who is the CEO and publisher of N’DIGO Magapaper.
Bowden was sociable into her later years and kept a wide circle of friends. To celebrate her 100th birthday during the height of COVID, more than 300 cars drove by during a socially distanced party.
She always lived on the South Side of Chicago and thought of the area as a mecca for Black America.
“She talked about the vibrancy of the Black community and how after (World War II) there was so much activity. It was a new life,” Hermene Hartman remembered.
Bowden was passionate about her work and disciplined. She raised over $2 million for the Christ Universal Temple, where she was a member. Before retiring, Bowden was a beloved intake supervisor at Cook County Hospital, where she worked for 30 years.
In recent years, Bowden enjoyed frequenting the theater, and she loved jazz and listening to Josephine Baker.
In her family, she was the go-to “auntie” to all her nieces and nephews.
“She loved children. I used to tell her, ‘You should have had more!’” Hermene Hartman laughed.
“She knew what it was not to have a mother,” her daughter added. “So if she found children that didn’t have a Christmas present or didn’t have a dress, particularly little girls, she made sure that they were provided for.”
Services will be Dec. 22 at the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave. Her wake will be at 10:30 a.m. and the service will be at 11 a.m.
Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.