Laurie Kokenes, director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development, has a special relationship with a Chicago TV personality who recently passed away: Elmer Lynn Hauldren, better known as the Empire Carpet man.

“My dad, Bob Haeger, and uncle, Warren “Buzz” Haeger, knew him,” Kokenes said. “They were all part of the SPEBSQSA – the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America.”

Haeger was also the editor and publisher of the Forest Park Review before the paper was purchased by Wednesday Journal, Inc. in 1986.

Kokenes said her dad grew up in a musical family, where there was always singing and piano playing in the house.

“In barbershop quartets, people harmonize and sing a-cappella, and when my dad grew up, he took that with him,” Kokenes said.

Kokenes also grew up with barbershop music as a part of her life.

“I grew up with barbershoppers singing in the basement and at events we went to,” Kokenes said. “I remember sitting on the stairs in the basement and listening to them practice. One of them would give me a shiny silver dollar if I would be quiet and not interrupt their rehearsals.”

Her father and uncle met Hauldren at a SPEBSQSA meeting.

“My dad used to bring him to lunch in Forest Park,” Kokenes said. “They would go to Richard’s Tavern (now Slaint’s) on Madison Street. My dad ate there practically every day of his life. When he would walk in with Hauldren, heads would turn and people would start to whisper, ‘That’s the Empire Carpet man!'”

Kokenes said that Hauldren, who ran an ad agency that created the commercials for the carpet company, would often get family and friends to participate in the bits.

“My uncle was in one of the commercials,” Kokenes said. “He would have family members or barbershop friends in them.”

Kokenes thinks the iconic “(773) 588 2300 EMPIRE” jingle was Hauldren paying homage to the barbershop style.

“He has a singing background and barbershop background, so I’m sure that is why he chose to sing the number in that style,” Kokenes said.

“It was easy to remember because you’re remembering a tune, as opposed to remembering numbers technically.”

Hauldren, formerly of Evanston, died April 26 of natural causes. He was 89. According to the Chicago Tribune, Hauldren wrote the phone-number jingle himself with his barbershop quarter, The Fabulous 40s.

Kokenes remembered Hauldren as a kind person.

“He was always very clever, very kind, and always cracking jokes,” Kokenes said. “When my father died in 1992, we had the funeral for him here at St. Bernardine’s. Hauldren, my uncle, and 20 or 30 other barbershoppers got up in church and sang my dad’s arrangement of a song called ‘I Believe.’ He was just a regular, nice person.”