Update 4 p.m.: Long-time Evanston restaurant owner and community activist Hecky Powell died this morning of complications of COVID-19.

Powell, who was 71, was widely known for his efforts to help disadvantaged youths launch successful careers and for his involvement in many community activities.

First word of Powell’s illness came from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who announced during a Reparations Town Hall meeting Thursday evening that Powell was hospitalized in intensive care suffering from the disease. She asked those attending the session to pray for his recovery.

Rainey had worked with Powell decades ago when he was executive director for the Neighbors at Work/CEDA social services organization.

Powell, who opened Hecky’s Barbecue, at the corner of Green Bay Road and Emerson Street, in 1983, received the honor from the city in 2014 of having an honorary street name sign “Hecky Powell Way” added to the corner.

Hecky Powell (Genie Lemieux/Evanston Photographic Studios)

He established the Forrest E. Powell Foundation, named after his father, to award scholarships to teenagers seeking technical training as well as the Evanston Work Ethic Program, which provided mentorships and training for students pursuing technical careers that don’t require a four-year college degree.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said, “His work to support our youth was unparalleled. Hecky embodied the very best of Evanston, and he loved our city and its residents unconditionally.”

Powell was named business person of the year in 2006 by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce and was known for mentoring many individuals in the business community.

He was in his fifth year of service as a member of the city’s Economic Development Committee, and he was a past president of the District 65 school board.

Powell was also a board member of the Transplant Advisory Council at Northwestern Medicine after receiving a liver transplant there in 2015.

Evanston Democratic Committeeman Eamon Kelly noted that Powell has also been an active member of the local party and had received its Abner Mikva Lifetime Achievement Award.

Among his many activities in the community, Powell had in recent years been the master of ceremonies for the Downtown Evanston holiday tree lighting ceremony. The organization posted a brief video tribute to him on Facebook late this morning.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Hecky

    Evanston is devastated by the loss of this beloved man. Hecky was singular in his positivity and drive to make the world a better place – one young person at a time. He was a great listener and learner, and treated everyone with respect and compassion. I’m so grateful for our 36 years of friendship.

    1. hecky game me my first job

      hecky game me my first job when i was in high school. he knew me my whole life as he knew my whole family. my heart is very heavy that we lost a great man. evanston will never be the same

  2. Hecky Powell

    While the motto of Hecky’s is “It’s the Sauce”, barbeque lovers and everyone who knew Hecky recognized that his “not so secret sauce” was passion. Whether it was his cooking, his commitment to educating and training children, his investments of time and money in worthwhile nonprofit activities like the McGaw YMCA, his public service as a school board member, or his gentle admonition and infectious smile that could steer a conversation or idea back to a place for practical consideration, Hecky dived in and brought others with him to make Evanston a better place. By the eloquence of his example and marvelous sense of humor, Hecky didn’t stand above you, he stood with you and with his community. Hecky will be deeply missed but he leaves an enormous and inspiring legacy.

  3. Hecky’s Life & Legacy Will Live On!

    Hired to work at Hecky’s when I was 14 years old. Hecky taught me so many things. He opened his restaurant, his heart, and his family to me from day 1. He became a mentor to me and guided me like a father-figure would. I worked at Hecky’s throughout my high school years and stayed there after I graduated high school for a little bit until he asked me to self learn excel lol. That’s when i decided to leave ha! Hecky taught me about entrepreneurship, about the importance of having a strong work ethic but more importantly about service to others. He took me in and let me advance to be admin assistant and really just delegated any and everything that was restaurant/office/family-related. We, along with Floyd (Hecky’s right-hand man) and dear friend, opened up additional locations (87th street BBQ & Heckys in Highland Park). We got his sauce in stores & after so many years, I ended up just tagging along with him learning any and everything I could under his mentorship. Some days I’d babysit his 2 boys and other days we’d take a bike ride downtown. He let me learn along side him when he was the president of the Evanston chapter NAACP & took me to meet some very special people. I was able to meet his father and mother & have very fond memories to hold onto from the time I spent working for him. Anyone who knows Hecky will also be able to tell you some of their fond memories. Hecky was a friend to many. He was beloved by most in Evanston and will be dearly missed by all who knew him. He truly was a brightly shining light in a community that appreciated it.  My prayers go out to his loving wife Cheryl & his children, and grandchildren. Hecky was not only a mentor he was a dear friend & a father -figure to me and to many, many others. I will miss you dearly my friend. Rest In Peace in the arms of the angels. With Love, Wendy  

  4. I worked at a local

    I worked at a local restaurant and worked closely with Hecky many times for graduations and holiday parties I am a local server he always treated us with the upmost respect and We love you Hecky it was a pleasure and a honor to be part of your life ! 

  5. Farewell Hecky!

    Although we will no longer smell the savory pit smoking that Babeque, in the air there’s a sense of both a deep loss & a sense of pride knowing how many lives Heckys love reached. May your legacy live on forever!!! 

    1. I did not know this gentleman– but wish I had

      I saw this story on a national new feed this am.  What a shame….for those who think that this pandemic is not real—- this is a story to confirm how dangerous COVID-19 is.

      To the family….I am sorry….to those whose life were touched by this kind man, you were obviously lucky to have known him.   Carry the torch!!  

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